September 3, 1999
Telehealth congress a tele-success
First conference of it's kind attracts Japanese royalty to Edmonton
More than 700 researchers from around the world shared ideas, solutions and novel approaches to telehealth technologies at the first International Telehealth and Multimedia Technologies Congress, Aug.16-18., hosted by the U of A's Telehealth Technology Research Institute (TTRI). The congress even attracted the attention of Japanese royalty, Prince and Princess Takamado.
Telehealth applications make distance and geographical barriers between healthcare professionals and their clients inconsequential. In a vast country such as Canada, an Edmonton doctor can consult with a colleague and patient in a remote, northern community for an ultrasound. X-rays and detailed graphical files can be downloaded for diagnosis in urban hospitals. Specialists and academics can provide instantaneous, live clinical and professional support to colleagues and students in isolated areas. Telehealth technology brings the world's best into your local doctor's office, whether in Edmonton or Edinburgh. Using high-speed ISDN lines at relatively low costs, as well as satellite technology, innumerable telehealth applications are possible.
Not only did the congress explore the applications, but it also used them. Some sessions could not have occurred without real-time technology, with a researcher from Belfast leading one, and a live consultation with researchers in Japan and Sweden in another.
Spearheaded by Associate Professor Masako Miyazaki, TTRI director, the congress drew basic researchers, health service providers and educators, government departments and industries that research, develop and use telehealth and multimedia technologies. Continuous live demonstrations of various aspects of telehealth applications were available such as: tele-psychiatry; tele-rehabilitation; tele-radiology; tele-reconstructive surgery and tele-learning.
"I felt like a conductor," said Miyazaki. "My mission was to find the best players for each sector, to bring them to the stage at one time, and to hear things never heard before." The congress was a "launching pad," said Miyazaki, to create new ideas and solutions. There is still a tremendous need to coordinate the efforts of telehealth implementation. "Telehealth cannot happen in isolation," she said.
Miyazaki said funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), about $70,000, enabled 14 delegates from developing countries such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Ukraine and Bosnia to attend. Also, for the first time, a session dealt with the impact of telehealth technologies on culture, specifically aboriginal communities. The panel session included Indian Claims Commissioner Elijah Harper.