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Service turns travel on its ear

Published:  12 March 2020

The pokey, carpeted room in a corner of Charters Towers Health Service looks like a tech-nerd’s workshop.

Richmond Hill primary schooler Ishmel Miller, 10, can identify each piece of equipment splayed out in front of her.

The otoscope takes a high-resolution picture of her ear, the tympanometer measures the movement of her ear drums and the audiometre plays a series of sounds at different frequencies.

Ishmel was diagnosed with hearing loss in her right ear last year and has previously had to travel to Townsville University Hospital for treatment and review appointments.

She is now able to receive a full tele-audiology review via telehealth with consultant clinical audiologist Venkatesh Aithal.

Data from tests is transmitted directly through to Mr Aithal in real-time and a preliminary report can be provided immediately to Ishmel’s mother Athena McLean after the 45-minute appointment.

“Before this was something that we could do here in Charters Towers we had to go twice to Townsville for tests and appointments which is a big trip,” Athena said.

“We are thinking we may need to do four of these appointments this year and with school and the other kids it makes it a big day.”

A fortnightly tele-audiology clinic at Charters Towers Health Service began as a trial in January 2019 funded by a $20,000 innovation grant through the Townsville Hospital and Health Service.

Mr Aithal said during the trial, 39 patients from Charters Towers accessed the service which has now been funded permanently from this year.

“Through this project we are really pushing the barriers of telehealth because this service involves real-time remote testing, not just a consultation,” he said.

“We’ve been able to effectively mobilise our testing regime to deliver a full audiology service remotely which is incredibly exciting.

“Charters Towers is just the start, we are also looking at making this available to people in Mount Isa.”

Child and family health clinical nurse Alison Stoneman delivers the appointments and operates the equipment from Charters Towers Hospital.

As for Ishmel, the appointment ran over her maths class and she was able to get back to school in time for science, her favourite subject, and the lunch break.

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