With the pandemic introducing many to remote working, a Northern Beaches business is aiming to make remote healthcare mainstream.
Remote healthcare, or telehealth as it is commonly known, has been the next big step in healthcare for more than a decade, but never taken off for a variety of reasons including poor quality internet connections in rural areas and the culture of office visits in the medical profession.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rethink of remote working, including healthcare, with telehealth allowing frontline medical workers to access specialist medical advice without unnecessary close contact. For the first time, many people have also had consultations with their GP by telephone rather than in person.
Warriewood business Visionflex demonstrated the capability of their system to Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes at a recent visit to their headquarters. Visionflex CEO and Founder Mike Harman said the business was established six years ago and with their telehealth platform reaching maturity, they have now certified it for export to global markets.
“We spent the last 18 months getting approvals for Canada. We had approvals for the US and for Europe, everything is in place. With most countries, your device has a certain classification and that’s defined by what the device does. In Canada it’s defined by what you connect to the device. If you connect to a higher class device, it drags our device up. We have to meet that certification,” said Mr Harman.
According to Mr Harman, existing telehealth solutions have been little more than a Zoom consultation between doctor and patient, offering little clinical benefit.
“95 percent of telehealth consultations are just telephone conversations and the video consultations take place generally just like a Zoom consultation, so it’s just a face-to-face. For us, face-to-face is not really telehealth, it’s just having a chat and you do it on the phone or you can do it with Zoom, it’s the same thing really.
“What we’re trying to introduce now is the clinical aspect of telehealth. You can do a proper clinical consultation during a telehealth hook-up, which is really difficult to do. That’s what we spent the last few years developing,” said Mr Harman.
The Visionflex telehealth system is a combination of hardware and software developed by the company at their headquarters in Warriewood. The core hardware device is called a ProEX Telehealth Hub which can be used with a variety of diagnostic monitors.
“If you have a burns victim from a car crash in Lithgow and a nurse with the patient needs a burn specialist, the specialist can log in with our software and look at the patient through the cameras.
“Our vision platform is developed from the ground up and it’s designed specifically for telehealth. One of the big things that we want to do in a telehealth consultation is we want to be able to see multiple camera views from the nurses.
“The doctor at the far end can now get some context of what’s happening in the room. They can see the nurse with the patient, they can see where they are placing the camera or the probe or how they are taking a measurement. There’s no other video conferencing system that will allow us to have multiple screens coming up.
“The next big thing we do is TeleStrations. We want to be able to collaborate with the nurse or the doctor at the far end. We have a snapshot function in each of these devices, so we can capture a picture on the screen and draw on it. We can bring up instructions on how to apply a drug, how to suture a wound or where to apply pressure.
“One of the other things that we want to be able to do is listen to the heart sounds of the patient. Other video conferencing systems filter out low frequencies so anything up to around 500 hertz is filtered out and you’re only hearing voice frequencies but that’s where the sounds come from for the digital stethoscope, so we need to be able to hear that.
“We convert these sounds into a digital stream and recreate them at the other end. We also give the doctor at the far end the control over the stethoscope so they can control the filters that have been applied and they can also control the sensitivity,” said Mr Harman.
Minister Stokes asked about the application for the platform in aged care, noting that significant resources are currently used in the health system, moving patients from aged care facilities to hospitals for what could be relatively routine diagnostic tests. Mr Harman said the Visionflex platform had the capacity to transform quality of care.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into aged care. There’s a journey as you progress through the different stages within an aged care centre. Moving people around is quite disruptive for the patient and for the family.
“What we’re developing at the moment is a system with a pole that can be put into any normal aged care room. You have a patient or resident in a normal room and their health is deteriorating. Instead of moving the patient, building maintenance comes in and clicks our pole into place in about 10 minutes.
“That will connect remote doctors to the patient, so they can do video consultations by the bedside without moving the patient. It turns any room into a high care room. Eventually, as their needs change and the patient moves to a different stage of care, the pole can be disassembled in around 10 minutes,” explained Mr Harman.
Minister Stokes said he found the system remarkable not just for the capability it demonstrated, but also that it had been developed locally, with design of components, electrical systems and software all done from Warriewood.
“It’s so exciting and inspirational having advanced manufacturing right in the heart of the industrial district of Warriewood and Mona Vale. It’s a natural medicine hub with Blackmores and PharmaCare, but seeing medical device manufacturing, I’m actually quite astounded that this is here. I’ve seen these guys around, but didn’t realise the scale of what they do,” said Minister Stokes.
In his capacity as Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Minister Stokes also said that it was crucial for the light industrial areas to be protected for employment and allow innovative companies to thrive on the Northern Beaches.
“These areas have changed so much over time. The perception is they’re full of surfboard repairers, and we need those, but there’s obviously a lot more going on as well. My first ever job was in a light engineering factory at Tengah Crescent, Mona Vale.
“Now you’ll have a surfboard manufacturer, light manufacturing, a gin distillery, and a producer of internationally significant medical devices, all having coffee together at the chocolate factory.
“What we need in these zones is flexibility of use. At a state level, we’ve got a review of our employment zones underway because the zonings were very prescriptive about what goes on inside buildings. What we need is flexibility to let businesses change and figure that out for themselves.
“We’re going from twelve zones down to five zones and changing from all those different categories, just down to employment. So just general employment zones, so the zone does what it says. It’s about inspiring employment.
“The number of cars parked here shows you the vibrancy of what’s going on. With more people working locally, what that means for the importance of our industrial and commercial areas is they are only going to become more important,” said Minister Stokes.
Images: Northern Beaches Advocate
Video: Visionflex Pty Limited