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Rural telemedicine pioneer

A BUNBURY-based radiology practice pioneered the deployment of telemedicine services to remote and rural areas in WA.

Imaging the South was founded by radiologist and nuclear technician Dr Johnny Walker in November, 1995.

Dr Walker used his own money to ensure adequate satellite-based communications infrastructure was in place to provide telemedicine services, rather than wait years for telecommunications companies to do so.

Beginning with three staff, the company now employs 130 local people.

Imaging the South group liaison officer Cindy Davenport said the practice was the only provider of nuclear medicine south of Perth.

“Remote and rural patients shouldn’t have to travel for hours for diagnosis,” Ms Davenport said.

“Practices were established in Bunbury and Busselton in 1996 and we quickly expanded to the Goldfields, Mandurah and other South West towns.

“There is also a practice in Kalgoorlie. In 1998, Imaging the South was invited to take up a 15-year contract for the provision of diagnostic imaging services to the Goldfields region.

“Through the use of telemedicine, our radiologists can operate in remote areas.

“Kalgoorlie is the only practice that doesn’t yet have telemedicine infrastructure in place.”

Imaging the South’s capabilities include spiral (CT) services such as neuroradiology, fully-comprehensive obstetric ultrasound, full general radiography, OPG, mammography and bone densitometry.

Ms Davenport said the practice has become WA’s first business to be accredited with the International Customer Service Standard.

Organisations that achieve ICSS recognition are judged on how they integrate customer service into all aspects of the business.

“Imaging the South was also the first radiology practice in Australia to meet the rigid qualification standards set by the Customer Service Institute of Australia,” she said.

“This ranks us alongside other accredited organisations such as Johnson & Johnson.

“While we gain direct feedback from our patients through surveys, the accreditation helped provide us with a service audit.

“You need to be extremely compassionate and sensitive to people’s feelings in this work.

“You’re dealing with both ends of the emotional spectrum – while some patients are ill, others are ecstatic having just been informed of their pregnancy, so you have to be exceptional with your interpersonal skills.”

Dr Walker said he planned to continue rollouts of telemedicine to remote communities.

“It’s very capital intensive but we aim to push the frontiers without telemedicine out further,” he said.

“We have formed a joint venture with Medicom to provide telemedicine to remote mine sites such as Barasue Dams in Kalgoorlie and Rhodes Ridge.

“Our immediate plan is to continue rolling out services in the Kimberley and Pilbara.”

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