ConTAC to deliver rehab, specialist services for aged care

The University of Queensland is one of the successful bidders for the $20 million NBN-enabled telehealth program with its ConTAC project, which aims to deliver much-needed medical and allied health services to 650 older Queenslanders living in residential aged care facilities and in the community.

The project will combine telehealth work currently being carried out in aged care facilities through UQ's Centre for Online Health (COH) and Centre for Research in Geriatric Medicine (CRGM), along with the use of telerehabilitation software first developed by UQ's Telerehabilitation Research Unit (TRU).

TRU's co-director and ConTAC chief investigator, Deborah Theodoros, said the home care aspect of the project would use eHAB software, developed by TRU’s co-director, physiotherapist Trevor Russell. The software provides a 'virtual clinic' delivered on a tablet computer to offer a variety of health services including physiotherapy, speech pathology, occupational therapy and audiology remotely.

The software has been trialled extensively by TRU along with service providers such as Blue Care, Queensland Health and the Hear and Say Centre, and has proved effective for physiotherapy after a knee reconstruction, for example, as well as in speech pathology.

“Most of what we do in speech pathology is audio-visual in nature, so when we are face to face with the individual, we are listening to them and watching what they do,” Professor Theodoros said.

“We provide them with strategies and techniques to improve their speech, language, voice or swallowing, and this can be readily done across the internet.”

eHAB is a mobile, multi-media video conferencing system that enables telerehabilitation consultations in the home. It has an online measurement capability which is performed optically using the inbuilt camera.

It can record interactions, send and display media to the participant, as well as measure physical parameters such as linear distance, range of motion, voice volume and pitch.

It also has the capability to route all telecommunications through a secure virtual private network and becomes a virtual clinic that can be used for both diagnosis and treatment.

Professor Theodoros said eHAB uses a number of tools that allows clinicians to assess conditions and send and receive images, as well as record video files. “The individual does not need to know how to operate a computer,” she said. “They simply turn on a switch, and the software loads the whole virtual clinic.

“We have done a number of studies in developing applications to assess people online and then to treat them. For example, we use the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment program for clients with Parkinson’s Disease. This is a an evidence-based speech treatment, and we have worked out a way to administer this treatment online.

“The patients participate in a videoconference with the speech pathologist, who takes them through this intensive treatment. The eHAB software allows us to measure the sound pressure level and pitch of the voice during treatment.

“Our research data is showing that we can get treatment outcomes comparable to face-to-face intervention.”

The $2.75 million grant awarded under the NBN-enabled telehealth program will allow the software to be used for aged and palliative care in the home.

ConTAC, standing for Comprehensive Online Telehealth Assisted Care, aims to enhance patient access to medical, nursing and rehabilitation services in their own home. “We define in their own home as both a home in the community or a primary place of residence in a residential aged care facility,” Professor Theodoros said.

The UQ team will provide the technology and know-how, while other partners in the project, including the aged care facilities and health service providers in the community, will deliver the actual services.

“When a residential aged care facility engages with the project, we will go in and set up their technology and assist them in the process of delivering a telehealth service,” she said. “These facilities have specifically designed technology, whereas people in the home in the community will use eHAB.”

The director of the Centre for Online Health and the Centre for Research in Geriatric Medicine, Len Gray, is currently conducting a four-year study into the use of high-tech telehealth in residential aged care facilities, involving a web-based clinical support system and clinical-grade video conferencing technology.

Professor Theodoros said the three UQ centres had come together as Telehealth @ UQ to tender for the NBN-enabled telehealth program.

“It is a combination of [Professor Gray's] development of residential aged care facility telehealth services, and what we have done in rehabilitation services, that will provide telehealth into the home,” she said.

“Depending on where the person lives and the type of services they need, basically the idea is to have this technology set up for them. The place of residence of course has to be connected to the NBN for that to happen. We work with partner organisations or service providers to achieve this.

“Although we provide the telehealth expertise and technology, we also want to provide social networking for individual clients through a web portal. This will enable clients to communicate with other family members and also to access information off the web about their condition.

“We are also hoping to provide information to health workers involved with the program that might increase their knowledge and upskill them. For the individual, their family and carers, information will be provided so that they understand what the health service is about.

“We aim to increase the network of health services for that particular client, so they not only get nursing care but also might receive services from medical specialists and allied health professionals.

“And it will be provided in their home. When people at home or in residential aged care become ill, they have to travel to the hospital and wait for specialist care. The idea is to maintain the quality of life for people while living at home so they do not require admission to hospital.”

Posted in Allied Health

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