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Remote medical diagnosis uses mobile phone im -

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Remote medical diagnosis uses mobile phone images

Cheap digital cameras can be used to measure and track wounds over time. Software takes
measurements and using the mobile phone, consultations can be made for people in remote communities
with limited health services. Diagnostic processes can be monitored. Chronic ulcers are easily
diagnosed, and diabetic foot ulcers are very effectively.

Transcript

Robyn Williams: While we're thinking about remote sensing, here's another way that simple
technology can help, this time with health. This is Professor Nic Santamaria at Curtin University
in Perth and he's looking at wounds from very far away.

Nic Santamaria: We use a very cheap digital camera. The background of it is for us to be able to
precisely measure the wound and to track its changes over time so that we know the effectiveness of
various treatments. Prior to that we would measure the length and width of a wound, which is not
much use unless you've got a square wound, but that's traditionally how it's been done and is still
being done in many places. So we came up with the idea of using a digital image and a bit of
software to allow us to measure very, very precisely at the millimetre level.

Robyn Williams: So you can have somebody anywhere really with a picture being taken in real time of
a wound and a diagnostician...let's say Perth but you could be really anywhere.

Nic Santamaria: Absolutely anywhere, as long as there's an internet connection, a telephone line,
we can get an expert to consult on that wound. Obviously there's more to it than just the
photograph and some written notes, but supplemented with a phone conversation it provides us with
great power in getting a consultation to a remote patient.

Robyn Williams: Remote where? Where would people need this sort of service?

Nic Santamaria: Well, some of our research has been in the Kimberley, very remote communities
there, even some of the towns, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, there are many satellite communities
around there it can be hundreds of kilometres from somewhere as small as Fitzroy Crossing, and very
limited health services. So we're able to transmit those images and that data to give support to
clinicians who are local.

Robyn Williams: So will you have clinicians there who themselves won't recognise what the wound
means?

Nic Santamaria: Potentially yes. We can guide that diagnostic process, we can say this wound, based
on the data that you've sent us, doesn't look like it's progressing and the appearance of it is
such that we would suggest you take some microbiological samples, some microbes cultures, perhaps
transport the patient for investigation at a local hospital or something like that.

Robyn Williams: One imagines wounds in accidents, wounds in some sort of traffic smash, but what
other kind of wounds as well?

Nic Santamaria: The predominant wound that we deal with are the chronic ulcers, and these can be
either venous in origin, so someone who has got a problem venous system, or they can be arterial in
origin or a mixture of both, and in remote locations we find a high incidence of diabetic foot
ulcers, and these are quite sinister and can develop into limb threatening events. So they're the
really important ones that we need to pick up early and intervene effectively.

Robyn Williams: One of the problems with remote medicine is that you need the people on the spot
who can then make use of the diagnosis, got to have the medical backup. So presumably that is there
sufficiently to make sense of what the provision you're making.

Nic Santamaria: It is. The trouble is that the population is mobile, so that you'll often find
individuals in those remote locations will travel large distances for family events for cultural
reasons, and the beauty of having an electronic patient record that is related to their wounds is
that it's available anywhere. So if you've got a patient that's moving 500 kilometres, their old
paper based notes are not going to move with them, yet we can provide the local clinician a
comprehensive record of what's been done to that wound, how it's progressed and what we suggest
should be done in the future. And they can add to that record as they go. So regardless of where
the patient is, effectively their clinical file is with them, and that's the beauty of it.

Robyn Williams: What does the technology consist of? Is it simply the old-fashioned mobile phone or
have you added technology to it?

Nic Santamaria: No, very, very simple, a little bit of software on a laptop or desktop computer, a
very cheap digital camera. I think the first one I used was a one-megapixel camera, I think my
phone has got more memory than that now, so it doesn't really require much. A little paper-based
ruler that we lay on the skin next to the wound so we can calibrate, so it doesn't really matter
how far away from the wound you are. Really that's about it from a wound imaging perspective.

If you're going to run it as a state-wide system, as we're proposing to do in Western Australia,
you need that data to be stored centrally so that it's available to a number of clinicians. But in
our studies in the Kimberley we were doing it from point to point effectively, so from the
hospitals in the Kimberley back to a consultant in Perth.

Robyn Williams: And the payoff? Wounds heal faster, complications are reduced, amputations nearly
eliminated for a large class of wounds. And a big saving of money as well.