Taking medicine from Antarctica to the outback

Mawson Station Doctor Glenn Browning using the ultrasound on a patient
Mawson Station Doctor Glenn Browning using the ultrasound (Photo: Glenn Browning)

6 October 2009

A collaborative project involving doctors from the Australian Antarctic Division aims to improve the accuracy of remote medical diagnosis using 3D ultrasound.

The Division is working with radiographers from the Royal Perth Hospital in Western Australia and medical equipment manufacturer GE Healthcare, to develop new protocols for using hi-tech Diagnostic Ultrasound Machines.

Australia's Casey, Davis and Mawson stations and sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island had the machines installed last winter.

Unlike conventional ultrasound machines which only produce two dimensional images of the body, the new machines collect a three dimensional block of data.

This can then be sent back to a central point where a trained specialist can 'virtually scan' through the block in all three planes and make a diagnosis.

The Division's Medical Officer, Graham Denyer, said the ultrasound is an important medical tool but learning to use it is difficult.

"It's impossible to train our doctors in all facets of medical care, so we decided to develop new protocols for the ultrasound machine to enable personnel with minimal training to use the equipment," he said.

The protocols detail the steps required to collect an accurate image, including the correct positioning of the probe and the recording and sending the data.

Antarctica is one of the remotest places on earth, with expeditioners cut-off from the outside world for up to 9 months over winter.

Radiographer, Rob Hart, from the Royal Perth Hospital, hopes the protocols can be used in other remote communities in Australia and even in outer space.

"Anything that makes remote medicine easier to practice and more accurate with good patient health outcomes will have implications for the wider community," Dr Hart said.

It's hoped the new protocols will be finalised and in use by the end of the year.

More information

ABC News story