A medical training program linking Ballarat’s St John of God Hospital and Tonga’s Vaiola Hospital is making a big difference to patients in the Pacific kingdom.
For 27 years a “twinning program” has run between the two health services with groups of Tongan medicos visiting Ballarat twice a year for four weeks of training, and Ballarat health workers visiting Tonga twice a year and coordinating an annual shipping container full of donated medical supplies being sent to the archipelago.
The skills that medicos involved in the program have gained have changed the course of the lives of many of their patients.
Tonga Twinning Program coordinator Carolyn Mornane said the rate of limb amputations on the islands was much reduced, anti-microbial dressings on wounds were now used and pain management had been improved.
“With infection control and hand hygiene they are very much on board even though they don’t have the same equipment, they do offer best practice for patients,” Ms Mornane said.
Lake Imaging, who operate within SJOG, also came on board about five years ago and donated a mammogram machine to Vaiola Hospital – the first mammogram machine for the kingdom.
“We have targeted the radiology department specifically with education, support and equipment,” said Lake Imaging technical operations lead Brooke Hazlett.
Five clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers are just about to complete their first week at SJOG.
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As the relationship has developed Lake Imaging has helped Vaiola transition to digital records, helped improve their darkroom safety and with SJOG has helped the service create searchable electronic health records.
“They now use the same computer system we use, so just being able to find medical records is huge. The skills they learn here and take back are things they use every day,” said SJOG health information services manager Michelle Franc.
It is the relationship between the two services that is proving the most valuable to patients in both countries.
“They talk about how other people come and give them money then go away but it’s about ongoing … collaboration and about building skills. They come and learn skills in Ballarat, and that’s followed up by a team that goes there and helps support their skills in the workplace,” Ms Franc said.
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