Telemedicine scheme proves popular with the elderly

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2008, 12:00am

Ten years after the introduction of telemedicine at Sha Tin Hospital, more than 1,000 residents of homes for the elderly and centres for the elderly benefit annually from the service, a senior doctor has revealed.

The service, where the elderly are able to consult specialist doctors via live videoconferencing, are of particular benefit to those who have difficulty walking.

Sha Tin Hospital currently provides two consultation sessions each week for doctors to remotely monitor and follow up on patients who reside at the centres and the local residential care homes for the elderly in New Territories East.

The New Territories East cluster of hospitals is the first of the Hospital Authority's seven clusters to provide telemedicine services for the elderly.

Five hospitals - Tai Po, North District, Alice Ho Mui Ling Nethersole, Sha Tin and Prince of Wales Hospitals - have telemedicine facilities and have electronic links with five centres and nine residential care homes in the area.

Elsie Hui, senior medical officer at the Medical and Geriatric Unit at Sha Tin Hospital, said that during a one-year pilot scheme in 1998, doctors found that telemedicine was feasible in 97.2 per cent of the 356 geriatrician consultations made that year.

The number of elderly people using the service annually has risen from about 100 in 1998 to more than 1,000 now, Dr Hui said, adding that not only was it cost effective, but it also saved on transportation time. It also helped reduce unnecessary visits to hospital emergency rooms.

One 89-year-old patient surnamed Ng said telemedicine saved her from the pain of having to travel to a hospital for regular follow-up consultations.

'I just feel talking to the doctor through teleconferencing is no different from having consultations with the doctor in person,' she said.

However, the service had limitations, Dr Hui said, as it could only be used for follow-up consultations and for minor medical problems. She hoped the service could be extended to elderly people living alone.