Gore set for robots in patients' homes

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013

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Ground-breaking technology, including a possible world-first, will be used at a Southland healthcare centre when it opens next month.

The Centre for Rural Health Development in Gore is a $220,000 training and education project to help address rural doctor shortages and patient access to specialists.

Technology such as robots, tablet devices and video conferencing will be used to promote better health outcomes for people in rural and remote communities.

Gore Hospital chief executive Karl Metzler said it was a challenge to attract and retain health professionals in rural areas, and patients had difficulty accessing specialist services.

The centre would be a state-of-the-art platform to showcase and share cutting-edge technology, and lead rural health in New Zealand, he said.

In what is believed to be a world-first, robots would be on display at the centre and later trialled in people's homes and rest homes, Mr Metzler said.

The robots would test blood pressure, heart rate, talk to patients and remind them to take medication, as well as provide companionship for patients.

As part of the project, Gore Health, the operational arm of Gore Hospital, will be the first in New Zealand to trial routine escreening - a scheme enabling patients to answer questions on tablet devices while waiting for their doctor.

Video conferencing between patients, nurses and doctors would also be trialled for the first time in New Zealand, to offer remote consultation and virtual care.

Last year, Gore Health was selected by the Ministry of Health to pilot tablet devices, GPS trackers on vehicles and emergency alarms for the district nursing team.

Mr Metzler said the trial was proving both time and cost effective.

Chief executive of e-health product developer HealthTRx, Anil Thapliyal, said the centre had the ingredients to be a success.

Mr Metzler had leaderships skills, and the hospital board and community had the right attitude, he said.

People were also becoming more comfortable with technology and research showed people were more honest with technology than people, he said.

Technology would not replace doctors, it would compliment them, and it would be about three years before the initiatives elsewhere in the country, he said.

Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said the project showed innovation and courage. "It just goes to show you don't have to be in a large population centre to be a world leader."

A Nasa astronaut familiar with e-therapy for astronauts could be tuning into the open day via video but had not been confirmed.

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The project has been funded by Gore funding bodies and Gore Health.

The building was gifted by the Southern Institute of Technology and some technology was gifted by the University of Auckland.

The centre will officially open on March 11 at the Gore Southern Institute of Technology campus in Gore.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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