Remote clinics allow self-examination
By Angy Tse
Angy Tse The Telehealth System is easy to use.
Now people can conduct their own health evaluations at easy to access kiosks with the help of Telehealth System.
The system is the result of concerted effort by the School of Nursing at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and its partners. It is such an innovative community health care practice that it offers self-administered health assessment, consultation and community health services
The first station was established in Tsing Yi under the collaboration of Princess Margaret Hospital and the Kwai Chung District Council in July 2001.
The Telehealth System consists of four main components: a Telehealth Clinic, a Web–based Information Center, a Health Statistics Center and a Telehealth Expert Station.
The Telehealth Clinic has two kiosks, one for health assessment and the other for booking enquiries. Within the kiosks, there are electronic devices that access health records.
The Health Assessment Kiosk is equipped with such telediagnostic tools as a teleauroscope and retinal imaging. “A user can input information concerning living habits and family members’ health records. Not only does the kiosk do body checks, but it also offers a comprehensive analysis of a user’s health,” said Prof. Thomas Wong, the project leader of the Telehealth System.
For the elderly, the system’s user-friendly features allow them to enter and retrieve data by touching the screen on the kiosks.
According to Prof. Wong, every registered client is given a magnetic card for activating the kiosk. Once the system is activated, a menu appears on the touch screen and a recorded voice speaks to the user in a chosen language. By following the instructions, a user can complete the health assessment procedures.
The assessment results are then transmitted via broadband to the Expert Station. Nurses are stationed at the station to monitor the transmission. All details will be stored at the Health Statistics Center.
Visual display units are installed in the Expert Station. A user can have a videoconference with nurses for health consultation throughout the assessment. After thorough analysis, a follow-up appointment will be arranged if necessary.
“The system serves three main purposes: maintaining community health, keeping a lifelong record for each user and, most importantly, increasing people’s awareness of their own health,” said Prof. Wong.
Prof. Wong said Hong Kong people seldom go to clinics for body-checks.
This system will allow people to gain a better understanding of their own health conditions.
With frequent monitoring, people can quickly notice health irregularities and seek help as soon as possible.
Willson Leung, aged over 50, finished the visual acuity test and blood pressure measurement at Tsing Yi Telehealth Station and found the kiosk easy to use.
“I come here frequently,” said Mr. Leung. “Prevention is better than cure.”
Both users and medical practitioners can benefit from the system.
“The system collects all users’ health data. They give doctors a clear picture of the whole community’s health. Based on the data, we can organize health education activities that target different age groups,” said Prof. Wong.
“The data also helps the study and diagnosis of common diseases, especially those closely related to our lifestyles.”
Since October 2002, the number of people using the System has reached 2,700. On average, people visit the station every six months and some even as frequently as once a month.
Although the kiosks are currently limited to Tsing Yi, stations will be widely available in the future.
“We have more stations under construction in Kwai Chung, Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong and Sham Shui Po,” said Prof. Wong.
“We are also planning to have the system installed on trucks. It will travel to places where health centers and youth centers are absent, making medical services more accessible.”
Prof. Wong was ambitious in developing the technology.
“I hope in two years we can miniaturize the whole system as a small gadget fitted into clothing.
“People can then have health assessments by simply putting on their shirts,” said Prof. Wong.