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Project aims to improve health care for rural and regional communities


Brigid Veale
21 May 2010
Testing the reliability of online monitoring equipment for sufferers of chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease is the aim of a new research project being conducted by the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, Southern Cross University and the University of NSW Rural Clinical School in Coffs Harbour.

Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, from Southern Cross University’s School of Health and Human Sciences, in collaboration with Dr Stuart Smith and Professor Stephen Lord from the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, will supervise a research project on the Mid North Coast investigating the use of a novel, home-based device for monitoring Parkinson’s disease.

They are currently seeking participants who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease within the past 10 years. Participants are welcome from the region stretching from Port Macquarie north to Grafton and west to Armidale.

“The aim of this project is to determine whether home-based monitoring technology can better inform researchers and clinicians about the health of people living in rural and remote areas,” Professor van der Zwan said.

Dr Smith said the project was also about providing individuals with better access to information so they could make informed decisions about their own health.

“We need to start empowering health consumers with personal health information to build a preventative healthcare culture,” Dr Smith said.

Participants in the study will be given a small, custom-made electronic device that tests their manual dexterity using a simple tapping task.

“The participants will be required to complete the task for five minutes each day,” Ms Maria Bernardi, a researcher in the project, said. “Through regular device use, we will monitor their speed, accuracy and co-ordination and be able to measure changes over a period of time.”

Professor van der Zwan said the use of online monitoring for people with degenerative diseases and diseases associated with ageing could ease the isolation experienced by many people living in rural and remote communities.

“It also helps monitor how people are going with their drug regime and can provide an early indication if changes need to be made without having to wait for specialist appointments,” he said.

“If the day to day changes are tracked using the online equipment we can make better use of specialist medical care.”

The researchers are also looking for participants for a second project which will test the use of custom-made rehabilitation equipment, designed specifically for upper limb function.

An information session for anyone interested in participating is being held at Southern Cross University’s Coffs Harbour campus at 11am on Tuesday, May 25. Information is available by contacting Professor van der Zwan at [email protected] or phone 66593306.

Photo: Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan.