The feasibility of a community-based mobile telehealth screening service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia

Telemed J E Health. 2010 Nov;16(9):950-6. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2010.0045. Epub 2010 Oct 29.


Objective: The increasing prevalence and earlier onset of chronic health conditions amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has become a concerning and significant problem. Telehealth may be a useful application for the early detection, monitoring, and treatment of chronic diseases such as ear disease and vision impairment. This study evaluates whether it is feasible to integrate a mobile telemedicine-enabled ear and eye-screening service with existing community-based services for Australian indigenous children.

Materials and methods: A collaborative service was established with the local community and delivered from a van fitted with screening equipment and telemedicine capabilities. Indigenous children (0-16 years) were assessed at school by an aboriginal health worker for conditions impacting hearing and vision. Screening data and video-otoscopic images were uploaded to a database and made accessible to specialists via a secure Web site. Those children who failed an ear-screening assessment, tele-otology clinics were conducted remotely by an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who reviewed cases and provided a diagnosis and treatment plan. Similarly, children who failed vision assessments were referred to an optometrist for follow-up care.

Results: During the first 6 months, the service visited 12 of the 16 schools in the region, screening 442 of the 760 consented children (58%). Of the 183 (41%) children who failed ear screening, 59 were reviewed remotely by an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, with 9 children booked for surgery. Three hundred and four or 41% of the consenting children completed an eye assessment, in which 46 (15%) failed and required referral to the optometrist.

Conclusions: It is feasible to integrate a mobile telehealth screening service with existing community-based services to provide specialist review and treatment planning at a distance. Community consultation, engagement, and collaboration in all areas of the project have been important.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Child, Preschool
  • Community Health Services / methods
  • Community Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Hearing Disorders / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / instrumentation
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / organization & administration*
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander / statistics & numerical data*
  • Otolaryngology / methods
  • Otolaryngology / organization & administration*
  • Prevalence
  • Telemedicine / methods
  • Telemedicine / organization & administration*