World's Most Remote Island Gets Advanced Medical Support From Team Led by IBM and Beacon Equity Partners

Real-time telemedicine solution for Tristan da Cunha brings promise of improved medical resources to isolated populations everywhere

Select a topic or year

ARMONK, NY - 14 Nov 2007: The world's most remote inhabited island can now accessadvanced telemedical care, thanks to pro-bono services and support from a high-technology team led by IBM and Beacon Equity Partners. Tristan da Cunha is located more than 1,665 miles west of Cape Town, South Africa, and is accessible only by a boat trip lasting a week or more.  Some 270 British Citizens call the island home.

IBM and Beacon Equity Partners today joined Medweb, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and the Government of Tristan da Cunha in announcing the successful implementation of “Project Tristan.”   This tested and proven remote medical solution combines medical equipment, satellite communications and remotely supported electronic health-record (EHR) technology, allowing medical experts from anywhere in the world to assist island clinicians in their daily practices with medical diagnoses and emergency support.

Until recently, the island’s only physician, Dr. Carel Van der Merwe, has had to rely upon minimal technology and limited medical support. Working from a hospital without so much as its own telephone to provide care for patients, he has often performed life-saving diagnoses and procedures without proper equipment or specialized expertise. Lacking a communications system that could accept email attachments, help in interpreting X-Rays or EKGs, he has depended on digital images scanned, printed and faxed to specialists thousands of miles away, delaying diagnoses by days. With no airstrip on the island, emergency evacuation or outside medical intervention has been and remains today virtually impossible.

Project Tristan was conceived by Edward Mullen, Chairman of Beacon Equity Partners, and Paul Grundy, MD, MPH, and IBM's Director of Healthcare Technology and Strategic Initiatives, as a way to honor the memory of a close friend, Thomas Wiese.  It was implemented with the guidance and support of UPMC, as well as of Dr. Richard Bakalar, Chief Medical Officer for IBM, who also established the Navy's first integrated Telemedicine Office at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, prior to joining IBM. Dr. Bakalar is also President of the American Telemedicine Association. 

Project Tristan,which is based on open standards and runs on the Linux Operating System, is expected to greatly enhance the island’s level of medical care and standard of living. The island’s physician is now able to electronically capture and share medical data and information, including X-Rays and EKGsas well as pulmonary function evaluations and video camera examinations with physician consultants. Satellite communications will enable clinicians to provide real-time diagnostic advice and suggested treatments to the attending physician.

"The ability to share medical data quickly and easily will be a life saver for our residents,” said Dr. Van der Merwe. “By joining forces, IBM, Beacon Equity Partners, Medweb and UPMC have not only created the capability to bring critical, patient-centric care to our remote island, but also to other distant locations around the world – on land or sea – that require constant connection to expert medical resources."

Contributions from each team member were as follows:

  • IBM: Solution co-development, integration and project management for the telemedicine system provided to Tristan da Cunha. Products and services included staffing, on-site installation of the system (requiring a 25 day service call because of the limited means of getting to the island), financial resources, IBM xSeries servers provided to Medweb and high-resolution monitors.
  • Medweb: Medweb servers and software and additional medical input devices including a computed radiography system for digital X-Ray; integration of ECG, digital cameras, spirometry and video conferencing capabilities; configuration and testing, remote installation, training and sustained support services on an ongoing basis, including primary technical and help desk services.
  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: With its widely recognized experience in telemedicine in the U.S. and abroad, UPMC volunteered to help plan and implement Project Tristan. Additionally, UPMC offered clinical professional service to the island, including medical consultations on request; secure and reliable access to robust and comprehensive multimedia medical data on Tristan patients from the Medweb Telemedicine solution; and ongoing remote training to support Project Tristan as needed.
  • SOAPwareR: Project Tristan features cutting-edge, remotely supported Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology courtesy of SOAPware, Inc. This solution has more installed sites and in use in more nations than any other.

 "Connecting the most remote inhabited spot on the face of the earth, Tristan da Cunha, to advanced medical care in real time and over the Internet is proof that the world is really flat. This a big step towards providing everyone access to centers of healthcare excellence regardless of geographical location," said Paul Grundy, MD, MPH, IBM’s executive sponsor for Project Tristan and Director of IBM’s Healthcare Technology and Strategic Initiatives. “It’s now possible to monitor a patient’s heart and remotely change the setting on a pacemaker or make a complex fracture diagnoses over a satellite Internet connection -- even in an environment where the closest advanced care via a ship would otherwise have taken a week to reach the Island and another to return to the mainland for care."

In dedicating Project Tristan to the memory of Weiss, who was lost to cancer in 2006 after a lifetime of helping others, the parties share a vision of the project’s potential impact around the world. “Thomas had enormous energy and enthusiasm for reaching out to others,” said Ed Mullen. “It is in memory of his spirit, resolve and guiding principles that our team has worked to deploy Tristan on Tristan da Cunha. Our unanimous goal is to expand this advanced telemedical solution to improve healthcare in remote locations around the world."

Related XML feeds
Topics XML feeds
Healthcare and Life Sciences
News about IBM solutions for the healthcare and life sciences industries
Services and solutions