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Ever Heard of Clare Island, Ireland?



I grew up in Dublin City, Ireland. Like all developed cities, everything is at hand. Local schools, shops, hospitals, entertainment, and everything needed for daily living. During the pandemic, we all got to experience what isolation feels like. Government restrictions meant we did not have easy access to these services.

Clare Island ferry.
Clare Island ferry.

Reflect on what life is like in a rural region for a minute. Many of these challenges are daily experiences for those that live in remote, isolated regions. Schools, shops, and hospitals are not easily accessible.

But this is the everyday reality for the residents of Clare Island.

Clare Island is a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. It is home to a population of about 160 citizens. It relies primarily on tourism and agriculture for its local economy.

Access to the island is enabled by a few small ferry boats that bring people and necessities. The trip takes about 25 minutes from the mainland. It is not unusual to be accompanied on these trips with a cargo load of sheep, diesel barrels, or occasionally a small vehicle dropped into the cargo area by crane.

Living on the island with an acute medical condition or experiencing an unfortunate accident presents significant challenges. A doctor visits every two weeks. There is no pharmacy. A few local nurses offer basic health care services.

If there is an emergency, help will not be immediate.

Cisco-enabled private 5G antenna with wireless backhaul.
Cisco-enabled private 5G antenna with wireless backhaul.

Transporting the patient to the ferry is arduous. There is no wheelchair access. The weather is often rough. Winter can mean the ferry cannot travel at all. A helicopter is often deployed.

The patient journey to the mainland is rarely easy.

Cisco is helping change this experience through our Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, which partners with governments, industry, and academia to connect the unconnected in 49 countries across the globe.

With the help of the University of Galway and our Health Services Executive, we are using technology to modernise the delivery of health care to Clare Island citizens.

The first challenge was solving the digital divide. Internet connectivity was poor to non-existent in many areas of the island, with just one high-speed connection available in the community center.

Cisco is building a private 5G network and leveraging Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul to provide island coverage and connectivity to the internet right into islanders’ homes.

With secure internet connectivity, we have the platform to build digitally delivered health services.

With Cisco’s help, blood conditions, such as blood pressure issues and diabetes, are now continuously monitored using a range of medical IoT sensors. 24/7 monitoring allows for immediate intervention if a patient’s condition is deteriorating.

Clare Island resident on a call with his doctor on the mainland, while being filmed for our documentary.
Clare Island resident on a call with his doctor on the mainland, while being filmed for our documentary.

Webex desktop devices in patients’ houses enable remote consultations without ferry trips to the mainland.

The project has been so effective that many patients had their medication altered in a timely fashion rather than having to wait for the next scheduled doctor visit. In one case, a potential heart attack was averted due to the technology. Many of the islanders are also wearing wearables that can detect trends in their health conditions and allow preventative intervention.

Some advanced technologies are being tested as well.

Drones are being used to deliver pharmaceuticals to the island. This includes emergency cases where an EpiPen might be urgently needed for a collapsed patient in the island hills.

A robot dog is being trialed to carry medical payloads such as a defibrillator, insulin, or EpiPen to a patient location by dropping a GPS pin.

The robot dog will also facilitate video links back to medical experts who can deliver remote guidance to the islander helping the patient. This project has been so impactful, the story made national prime time news on TV.

Check out the work Cisco is doing on Clare Island

Many Cisco employees will have experienced the challenges of looking after an ill family member, relative, or friend. There is distress and hardship in constantly monitoring the patient, scheduling doctor or hospital visits, and worrying about deterioration.

Continuous monitoring, early detection, avoiding hospital visits when unnecessary, and remote consultations, all make the patient and caregiver experiences easier with significant cost savings.

The Cisco CDA team and System Engineer Brian O’Donoghue are proud and honoured to be making a difference to citizens’ lives. The model of health care delivery around the globe can be changed for the better with digitisation.

The Cisco vision is an inclusive future for all. This project fully embodies that vision. It addresses the digital divide and enables better health care service delivery.

At some stage, every Cisco employee will experience what it is like to be a patient or caregiver. I had been a caregiver for my parents during their final years of illness. Technology would have made their experience much easier and less arduous.

There is nothing better than seeing the relief and smile on a patient’s face when things are made easier.

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