Virtual Reality

Holographic headsets connect remote patients to city doctors

Once known only for immersive gaming, mixed reality is now being used to connect patients in remote parts of Australia to medical specialists located hours away.

Key points:

  • Mixed reality headsets are being used to connect doctors with patients in remote areas
  • Bairnsdale Regional Health Service purchased 12 units to distribute across East Gippsland
  • Doctors say the technology should help to prevent delays in care

Microsoft HoloLens is a mixed-reality holographic computer, worn as a headset, that allows the user to see their physical environment overlaid by various programs.

Bairnsdale Regional Health Service successfully trialled the headset in the remote, north-east Victorian town of Dargo, linking patients to specialists in Melbourne through a holographic consulting room.

The nurse wears the headset and is guided by a doctor who can assess the patient more thoroughly than they could via a regular telehealth appointment.

The trial included specialist consultations for nephrology, post-operative reviews and urgent GP consultations.

A nurse holds a patient's leg while holding a headset.

HoloLens allows a nurse to pinpoint areas of concern to a specialist.(ABC Gippsland)

Better healthcare

Nephrologist and Telecare chief medical officer Christopher Sia has seen Dargo resident Lorraine Paul multiple times using HoloLens to consult her on her kidney problems.

He said the technology allowed doctors to provide better quality healthcare.

“It makes me feel like I’m in the room with the patient and the nurse acts as my eyes and my ears,” Dr Sia said.

“HoloLens gives really good resolution, really good quality pictures, and also is more mobile than a standard webcam.”

He said it was important to assess people’s fluid state accurately by looking at their legs for any signs of fluid overload, which was easier to do through HoloLens.

Microsoft HoloLens Christopher Sia

Dr Sia says any technology that allows good and early access to specialist care is beneficial. (Source: Darryl Torpy)

Ms Paul had previously travelled more than an hour for a telehealth appointment in the nearest regional city of Bairnsdale.

“With the HoloLens, it’s a lot easier, because you pick out a special day and you don’t have to go anywhere,” she said.

Dargo Bush Nursing Centre nurse Sarah Carr said the technology allowed her to feel more confident and supported in her job.

“It allows for us to actually pinpoint any areas of concern or interest that the GP or the specialists may like to look at,” she said.

“To have someone who’s specialised, experienced at the other end, seeing what I’m seeing, that makes a huge difference for my treatment and care.”

East Gippsland to benefit

Bairnsdale Regional Health Service has purchased 12 HoloLens units to distribute across bush nursing centres at Dargo, Cann River, Gelantipy, Swifts Creek, Buchan and Ensay, as well as some hospitals and aged care facilities.

Microsoft physician Nick Woods said the technology should improve access to specialist healthcare in remote areas.

A view of a country road with a pub on the left.

Dargo has a population of about 100 people. (ABC Gippsland)

“I see this as another case for how we can better connect patients and the community without them having to make that 4.5-hour trip back to Melbourne for a specialist consultation,” Dr Woods said.

Dr Sia said travel time was often a barrier for people needing specialist care, leading them to avoid seeking treatment.

“It’s important that we pick up disease early rather than delaying care and allowing these presentations to become more severe and having to deal with more severe complicated illness down the track,” he said.

Cost benefits

Bairnsdale Regional Health Service chief executive Robyn Hales said HoloLens was economical, costing about $5,500 per unit.

“If we can get patients that utilise that on a really regular basis, decrease people’s travel, decrease ambulances needing to go out and collect patients, that provides really timely care, which is a significant cost saver,” she said.

The health service is now collaborating with a Melbourne-based university to research how HoloLens can be used for a range of diagnostic tools including stethoscopes and electro-cardiogram monitoring.

“I think there’s opportunities for other regional and remote areas in Australia to think about this technology,” Dr Woods said.

A nurse holds a patient's leg while holding a headset.
HoloLens allows a nurse to pinpoint areas of concern to a specialist.(ABC Gippsland)


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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