Medical Research Help Kids Fight Ear Disease

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Western Australian researchers working to reduce chronic ear disease in rural and remote areas of the State have received a share of $2 million in medical research grants.

Department of Health Director General Dr Peter Flett said a grant of more than $172,000 had recently been awarded to research the evaluation of a recently introduced ear telehealth system in the Pilbara.

The system consists of a user-friendly computer programme that combines digital images from a special camera to view inside the ear, the results of a hearing test and a full clinical history, required by ear specialists to provide advice on management of ear disease.

Dr Flett said chronic health disease was a major preventable health problem, which left undetected, would have profound effect on a child's life.

"This system is easy to transport and aims to increase the number of children screened for ear problems, improve treatment times and ultimately reduce chronic ear disease and hearing loss," he said.

The Pilbara project's principal investigator Associate Professor Robert Eikelboom said it was a critical part of a larger effort to improve the quality of detection and management of ear disease in the young, with a particular emphasis in Aboriginal children who experienced far higher rates of chronic ear problems.

"Providing ear health services to remote parts of the State is a major health challenge and there are long-term health and financial implications of untreated ear disease," he said.

"Access to ear specialist services is difficult for people in remote areas, and waiting to see a specialist often means that timely treatment is not provided. Assessment prior to and after surgery also presents challenges."

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Professor Eikelboom said the initiative would allow clinical information and photographs to be sent electronically to a specialist, reducing the need for patients to travel to Perth, and also enable patients to be assessed before and after surgery.

Two ear telehealth systems will be placed in the east and west Pilbara at Aboriginal Medical Service in Roebourne and South Hedland. The units will be used in local schools and clinics by school health nurses and will travel to surrounding remote communities including Port Hedland, Newman, Mable Bar, Karratha Wickham and Tom Price.

The State Health Research Advisory Council (SHRAC) funding will enable a full evaluation, which will consider the costs of the current service delivery, as well as the costs and benefits of the ear telehealth service to WA Health.

This year 16 projects were awarded $2million by the Department of Health for SHRAC research grants. $2million in funding was also provided in 2007/08 to fund 18 projects statewide.

The funding highlights areas of medical research that can translate results into health savings and efficiencies in the WA Health system.

Other projects to receive SHRAC funding to improve access to care in remote and regional areas include:

* $119,300 to look at improved models of maternal care for rural and remote Aboriginal women.

* $101,500 to access the clinical and cost effectiveness of remote patient monitoring of at-risk heart failure patients in rural and remote settings.

Dr Flett said the State's top medical and health researchers were constantly looking at how to improve the delivery of and access to health services in WA.

"This funding is an important commitment to help ensure that we continue to explore ways to provide the people of WA with the best possible care," he said.

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