High-Speed Broadband Access -Case Studies: Medicine

Rachel Esson - medical librarian

Rachel Esson - medical librarian


Interview with: Rachel Esson - Library Manager, Wellington School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Rachel Esson, library manager at University of Otago Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says high-speed broadband is essential for accessing medical databases providing information for doctors and medical students.

The library downloads large amounts of medical data daily. When rare complications arise during surgery, the library may receive an urgent request to search specific information and fax it to theatre within minutes - so broadband literally saves lives.

Medical Databases

"Medline, the medical database we use most, is hosted in Utah and updated daily so we need very high quality access," says Rachel. "We have access to over 30,000 electronic medical journals, and need to download high resolution PDFs and illustrations rapidly."

The library has nearly 60 computers - 18 available for 24-hour access - and eight e-stops (PC stations available for quick consultations).

Accessing online medical resources

Accessing online medical resources

Research Information

High-speed broadband gives clinicians access to "vastly more medical research and information".

"We host several online resources such as UpToDate, which provides topic reviews, overviews and expert opinions about treatment and diagnosis. The hospital and school do 50,000 downloads a year from UpToDate."

Data that once took weeks to access, now takes minutes. Immediate downloads of latest international medical journals helps New Zealand medicine keep up with international developments.

It also creates network and relationship-building opportunities.

Post-graduate students use interactive learning platforms such as Blackboard. Blackboard@Otago provides staff and students with access to communication tools, course materials, discussion forums, online assessment and other features to help manage study or teaching.

Broadband is essential for that but hard to fund on a student budget.

"It's essential to put resources into ensuring everyone has high quality broadband access. While the service we have here is fast, we could always use faster."


Broadband also enables clinicians to videoconference with other centres for patient and teaching purposes.

Dr Thorsten Stanley, Senior Lecturer in Paediatrics, regularly uses the TelePeds virtual private network to videoconference with paediatricians throughout New Zealand. Patient pictures are sent in digital format.

TelePeds has been available for some years. "Initially the picture quality was extremely poor but better bandwidth and speed has improved that. However, if you are connected to four or more centres at once, picture quality deteriorates. Higher bandwidth would improve that."

Dr Stanley says accessibility of data has revolutionised his work. "If I'm in clinic with a patient, I can directly access dependable sources of information for them instantly.

"I download entire medical journals electronically and when I'm preparing lectures I can search all recent articles about the topic. I don't have time to wait ages for large PDFs to download, so high-speed access is essential.

"Increasingly people internationally are podcasting their lectures. I download them to listen to in my own time."

Another recent development is access to medical videos, a valuable teaching and research tool that requires more bandwidth.