A love for the Australian outback led Mark Shephard to a range of remote Aboriginal communities, prompting him to establish the largest point-of-care (POC) testing network for diabetes in Australia.
POC testing is pathology testing performed outside the laboratory. Results are fast, accurate and can make the management of acute and chronic illness faster and more effective.
In 1996, Professor Shephard began the first trial, which focused on the early detection and management of renal disease.
This research gave Professor Shephard the opportunity to attend a conference on renal disease in Aboriginal people where he met a Commonwealth Government official intending to fund a POC testing program focusing on management of diabetes in Aboriginal communities.
The experience enabled him to secure the funding to run this new POC testing model called QAAMS (Quality Assurance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Medical Services).
“After 16 years, QAAMS has grown to a national program involving 190 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical services around Australia – 70 per cent of which are in rural and remote communities,” he said.
Professor Shephard’s International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing expanded the QAAMS into an international program called ACE (Analytical and Clinical Excellence), which operates in 35 communities in seven countries around the world.
The initial POC testing programs were designed for the management of chronic conditions like renal failure and diabetes, but POC testing can also be used to diagnose acute conditions.
“In the Northern Territory we have a program which uses another POC device that can test a range of markers like electrolytes, cardiac markers and blood gases,” Professor Shephard said. “Previously patients presenting with serious symptoms would have to be flown out to a major hospital for diagnosis and treatment.
“This program now encompasses 72 remote health facilities where they now have access to 24-hour POC testing.”
There are two key benefits of this technology being available in the community:
The Centre’s POC networks are expanding further, with new devices now available for the detection of infectious diseases like gonorrhoea and chlamydia through the rollout of a program called Test, Treat And Go into rural and remote communities where rates of these diseases are most high.
The suite of POC testing devices and the networks the International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing has developed is world leading in its scale and innovation.
The Centre relies on funding from grants and donations.