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Toughest health challenges
13 November, 2018

Designing technology solutions for the toughest heath challenges

At the Australian Centre for Health Innovation in Melbourne, a simulated hospital leverages the ultra-high speed and reliability of the AARNet network to test and trial new and emerging technologies

For the last 10 years, the Australian Centre for Health Innovation (CHI) in Melbourne has been connected to Australia’s universities and hospitals via AARNet. In fact, it was the first health organisation to connect to the network as part of a test case to meet the needs of “dual citizens”: medical professionals who have hospital as well as academic positions.

Simulated hospital

At CHI, a faithful replica of a hospital overlaid with a medical-grade IT testbed provides the ideal environment for healthcare solution providers to test and trial products that tackle the toughest health challenges.

Among an array of innovations CHI has helped vendors bring to market, Director of Technology, Frank Smolenaers, highlights the success of a project to design and test telehealth solutions to link regional GPs with metropolitan specialists.

“The government was bringing out a rebate for telehealth consultations linking regional GPs and their patients with metropolitan specialists.

“Together with an Australian telco, we modelled one room in our facility as the rural GP with the patient using a DSL link, and in the other room we used our AARNet link as the ‘corporate hospital’ link to a metropolitan specialist.”

With the two rooms separated acoustically, CHI conducted a number of telehealth consults using real GPs and specialists along with actors as patients.

“By observing and improving, we had a whole cycle of testing and development and we were able to help the company produce two levels of tele-health solutions; one for the GP practice and the other for the specialist. Our AARNet link made it all possible.”

Testing new technologies

Mr Smolenaers says CHI has used their AARNet connection “an inordinate amount of times” to test and trial new technologies.

CHI has also taken its demonstrations on the road; to conferences and hospitals around the country. Examples include demonstrations at the Sunshine Coast University hospital, as well as the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne; both also connected to AARNet.

“With the formidable AARNet connection we have, I knew there wouldn’t be an issue on our end as far as speed and throughput, and the whole experience would be optimised.”

With no real patients, CHI has provided a risk-free environment for testing new technologies, providing vital feedback to vendors and health services. Several solutions can be trialled at once and a decision made about which is best for an organisation to pilot in their own environment.

“There’s nothing like being able to pick up a device and handle it, authenticate, charge it, see how you can use it in real life,” Frank Smolenaers said.

As well as a simulation of a physical hospital environment, complete with wards and operating theatres, CHI boasts the IT infrastructure found in a real hospital, including specifics such as firewalls, Active Directory for authentication and mail servers.

End users are at the centre of CHI’s focus: designing solutions to reduce error, meet end user needs, save time and make efficiency savings.

To facilitate this, human factors labs sit alongside the hospital facilities; essentially viewing and control rooms that help experts observe how people interact with each other and with technology, as well as making it possible to view two parts to a process at once.

Medical-grade IT Testbed

The medical grade IT testbed – called the Digital Health Design Laboratory – helps show organisations what’s possible when it comes to technology by allowing the customer to immersively experience their future state i.e. the new technology and workflows in the simulated hospital environment.

It has included systems from different vendors – such as wireless telephony, rostering and paging systems – to showcase where technology is heading and what can be done to address the specifics needs of the clinician.

“Many organisations lack technology maturity in certain areas. CHI can show them what’s possible and, if they can’t come in person, we can remote them in and take them on a tour and show them the technology wherever they might be. We use AARNet to optimize that remote experience,” Mr Smolenaers.

For the last four years, CHI has been a division of Alfred Health and has been working on developing a number of solutions including a digital wayfinding app (like an indoors GPS naviagation solution) within The Alfred hospital.

CHI helped the company develop the app to be ready to pilot in a hospital, and also entered into a commercial arrangement with them. The app now has several interested purchasers, says Smolenaers.

“By partnering with us, the company benefited from our knowledge of health, patients, health technology, and processes around user engagement, feedback and requirements gathering.

“Satisfaction with the use of the app increased dramatically following our collaboration with consumer groups, as did the look and feel.”

AARNet and the health sector

AARNet connects numerous health research and education organisations around Australia, providing the ultra-high speed and reliable broadband connections that enable organisations to work together seamlessly to undertake essential health research and education across the nation’s vast distances.

Dedicated research and education connectivity and collaboration services, such as our secure global wireless network access service, eduroam, support mobility among those moving between medical practice, research and education in the health sector. Our extensive international connections to Asia, the US, Europe and beyond also underpin data-heavy international medical research and collaborations.

With the formidable AARNet connection we have, I knew there wouldn’t be an issue on our end as far as speed and throughput, and the whole experience would be optimised.”

Australian Centre for Health Innovation
Frank Smolenaers

Director of Technology, Australian Centre for Health Innovation