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Largest Research and Development Community in Telemedicine

Tromsø has been the centre for telemedicine in Norway for more than two decades. During that time, it has grown into the world’s largest Research and Development community in this field with more than 100 researchers from 20 different countries based at the Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine (NST) and the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory (TTL).

The history of telemedicine in Tromsø dates back to 1987 with the establishment of a telemedicine department at the research unit of the Norwegian telecommunications administration in Tromsø, together with Tromsø Regional Hospital, Norut IT (Northern Research Institute), Kirkenes Hospital and Troms Military Hospital.

The move was spearheaded by the Norwegian government’s wish to have Telenor, the Norwegian telecom, expand outside its Oslo headquarters. Telenor decided on Tromsø as a site for telemedicine because of the widely dispersed population up north and shortage of medical specialists.

As a result, the NST was established as a department of the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsø in 1993. It was later designated as a national centre for telemedicine in 1999. The telemedicine community at NST grew rapidly into 100 researchers from around 20 different countries, making it the biggest Research and Development community in the world within telemedicine.

The centre works both nationally and internationally in finding new solutions and knowledge in telemedicine and e-health. For example, it has trained nurses in local hospitals in remote dialysis treatment for kidney transplant patients so they can have virtual diagnostics every day locally rather than having to travel long distances to the dialysis department in
Tromsø.

The NST conducts research and development in national focus areas. The centre also provides documentation and advice to health professionals and authorities and works together with business and industry to develop news services and products. So far, it has created 10 spin-off companies, including RisCo, a supplier of teleradiology systems, and Well Diagnostics, now owned by DIPS, the largest supplier of electronic patient record systems to Norwegian hospitals.


The NST has trained local nurses in remote hospitals in remote dialysis treatment for kidney transplant patients.©NST


International Recognition via WHO
The centre has gained international recognition, partly as a result of its collaboration with the World Health Organisation. It became the WHO’s first Collaborating Centre in telemedicine in 2002 and just had its status renewed for another four years, until 2014. Its recent activities include helping the WHO develop a public research agenda for influenza, a telemedicine training course for medical doctors in low-resource settings, and support for the Global Observatory for e-health.

One of the countries NST has had most success with is Russia. Norway started telemedicine with the Russians in 1993 under the prompting of then foreign minister Thorvald Stoltenberg, who wanted to lessen the disparity between the two border nations. Since then, NST has developed a telemedicine collaboration between Arkhangelsk Oblast and Northern Norway, and several other programmes with Russia, including tuberculosis treatment by use of computer networks.

Russia is just one of dozens of international projects where the NST participates. Other examples are the Palestinian Telemedicine Rehabilitation Network, the Romanian pilot centre for telemedicine, and most recently, the European Space Agency’s IAP programme.


Tromsø Science Park is home to the Norwegian Centre for Integrated Care and Telemedicine (NST), a centre of research and expertise that gathers, produces and disseminates knowledge about telemedicine services, both in Norway and internationally.©NST


Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory
In addition, the NST serves as a host institution for the Tromsø Telemedicine Laboratory (TTL). In 2006, the Research Council of Norway designated the NST as a Centre for Research-based Innovation and TTL was established as a research project with the University Hospital of North Norway. TTL’s other partners include the University of Tromsø, Telenor, IBM, DIPS, Northern Research Institute (Norut Tromsø), Norwegian Health Net, and Northern Norway Regional Health Authority.

There are currently some 30 researchers at TTL from all parts of the world. Its main focus is dealing with the challenge of a growing elderly population and more chronic diseases, specifically through the use of sensor-based applications. This will in the future help give patients a better lifestyle while simultaneously easing the burden on the health care system.

“We try and see how people can manage themselves better and avoid hospitalization,” said Sture Pettersen, TTL administrative manager.

One of its recent successes has been within the use of Bluetooth applications on blood sugar monitors for diabetic patients so that the information is automatically registered and sent to their doctor via mobile phone. What is unique is that the system is “ubiquitous,” i.e. the patient does not notice he is carrying it, said Pettersen. “This is a disease where the patient has to be their own doctor,” said Pettersen. “We give them feedback all the time.”

TTL also does research on how to better organize workflow management between hospitals, practitioners and patients and on monitoring infectious diseases by mapping data to see the spread of disease early on. In the future, TTL hopes to make a breakthrough in the detection of malignant melanoma. It is currently working on a project whereby general practitioners can take photos of suspicious skin formations using a dermascope attached to a digital camera and analyze it with a computer software programme to determine if they are dangerous.

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