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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 08:40 GMT
Tele lifeline for Outback patients
The patients were in remote areas in Australia
Patients spread across a large area
Alfred Hermida

Mental patients in some of the world's most remote areas have been successfully treated using telemedicine.

Doctor Russell D'Souza was able to look after people with psychiatric problems in remote rural areas in the Australian Outback using the new technology.

"What we found was pretty amazing," he said. "Out of 30 patients, only three had to be airlifted. If we didn't have telemedicine, all the 30 would have had to come to Sydney."

Telemedicine is the diagnosis and treatment of certain medical conditions via a computer link.

Sound and vision

The challenge facing Dr D'Souza was looking after patients, spread over tens of thousands of kilometres, from his clinic at the Centre of Excellence in Remote and Rural Psychological Medicine at the University of Sydney.

Dr Russell D'Souza looked after patients from Sydney
D'Souza: Amazed by the results
He overcame the problem by using a network of telemedicine units in small hospitals in the Outback.

Each unit had a television and a camera, connected through a dedicated ISDN line, so he was able to see and talk to a patient.

"What we've done is probably a first," he said. "Every morning we got on the telemedicine equipment and we interviewed and spoke to each other."

Patients 'felt safe'

By using this new technology, the patients spent less time in their local hospital and were less likely to suffer a relapse.

In the study, Dr D'Souza found that most people spent almost five days less in bed, freeing up valuable resources for the local hospitals.

Part of the reason for this was the ability to treat people close to where they lived.

"They were treated in a pleasant environment; in an environment that meant something to them," he said.

"And more important than anything else, they felt safe."

See also:

07 Dec 99 | Health
Health care goes online
07 Dec 99 | Health
The future of 'e-medicine'
25 Feb 01 | Health
Health message from the skies
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