Scotland is conducting the first UK trial of an advanced telemedicine system that could enable health services to reach island and remote communities around the country.
The Scottish Centre for Telehealth is collaborating with NHS Scotland to trial the HealthPresence virtual clinic system to link patients and doctors through videoconferencing without needing medically trained assistants on site.
The system, developed by Cisco, is being evaluated by doctors at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, who are comparing the results of consultations done using the telehealth system with subsequent live consultations.
"Since starting the trial more than a month ago, I have not had to change a single one of my diagnoses or treatment plan decisions made using the system," said Dr Karyn Webster.
The system uses an IP network to combine HD video and audio with medical information. Integrated medical diagnostic equipment enables doctors to test blood pressure, temperature, weight, pulse rate and lung function. The system includes a stethoscope and a camera for capturing detailed images of patients' eyes, ears and skin.
Dr Webster, who is experienced in using less sophisticated video links to treat patients while they are accompanied by trained nurses, said the HealthPresence system allowed far more detailed examinations by providing the doctor with physiological measurements.
"The quality of the equipment means doctors could get specialist input on things like skin conditions to reduce the number of people who need to travel for additional care," she added.
The system is expected to be implemented in Scotland after a further trial with one remote location that is due to start in March.
Dr Webster said many communities in the UK could benefit from the system and assistants could be recruited locally and easily trained as operators.
"The system could be used to support community hospitals and meet the educational and meeting needs of these communities, so it has wider applications as well," she said.
The system will also reduce demand and waiting times at hospital accident and emergency departments in larger centres by enabling patients with minor conditions to speak to a consultant without going to a hospital.