A NEW pilot project is aiming to improve after hours care across rural health services in the western region.
The telehealth pilot, which was launched at Hepburn Health Service last Thursday, will mean specialist emergency doctors will be available to offer clinical support to nursing staff at urgent care centres after hours.
The pilot is being rolled out by the Western Victoria Primary Health Network (PHN) and My Emergency Dr (MED) across a number of health services including health services in Ballan, the East Grampians, Stawell and Maryborough.
Urgent care centres are located in small rural communities where high levels of trauma care are not available, so staff at the centres provide initial resuscitation and limited stabilisation before patients are transferred to a regional or major trauma service.
The service will allow for medical staff at the centres to contact emergency specialists, via video-call on the MED App, who will be able to remotely access, diagnose and arrange for treatment including prescriptions, x-rays and pathology referrals.
The video-call service is staffed around the clock by specialists in emergency medicine (FACEMs) who are based all around Australia.
Dr Leanne Beagley, chief executive officer of Western Victoria PHN said the use of telehealth had been identified as a potential alternative to addressing some of the identified workforce challenges.
"The pilot aims to complement the important role that GPs play in the provision of after hours care in the community and responds to some of the significant workforce demands and challenges in rural areas," she said.
[It] aims to address some of the workforce challenges that commonly impact small rural communities including difficulties in recruitment and retention of GPs when there is significant after hours commitments, increased number of GPs seeking a better work life balance and an ageing GP workforce.Dr Leanne Beagley
"It will also support the delivery of quality care as close to where patients are living."
Evaluations of initiatives funded previously identified a need for alternate models to allow for round-the-clock care that is not dependent on GPs, while addressing recruitment and retention workforce challenges that impact UCCs.
CEO of Hepburn Health Service, Maree Cuddihy, said the pilot project aimed to reduce the significant after-hours burden placed on GPs in small rural communities.
She said local GPs and nurses working in the urgent care centre would have after hours access to emergency specialists for support, education and clinical advice.
Hepburn Health Service currently has other strategies - including an after hours sub regional engagement project which involves coordination of sponsored rural and isolated practice endorsed registered nurse (RIPERN) places within the Ballarat Goldfields region as well as increased access to education and support resources - in place to strengthen after-hours support at its services.
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The Western Victoria PHN has provided more than $550,000 towards after hours initiatives to assist primary healthcare service delivery and improve health outcomes across the west of the state.
Deakin University will undertake an evaluation of the pilot for the health network to determine whether or not it is a financially viable solution that is worth investing in to manage after hours service issues.
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