Specialist emergency doctors will now be available at Rural Northwest Health and Stawell Regional Hospital during the after hours period, thanks to a new telehealth pilot being delivered by Western Victoria Primary Health Network (PHN) and My Emergency Dr.

The new After Hours Telehealth Pilot will be available across several Health Service Urgent Care Centre’s (UCC) in the Western Victoria PHN region, with East Grampians Health Service to commence services in late September.

The pilot at Rural Northwest Health and Stawell Regional Hospital UCCs started this week and will run until 31 July 2020.The video-call based service will be used by Urgent Care Centre staff in the after hours period via the MED App on a smart phone or tablet, which gives immediate access to a team of Emergency Specialists who can remotely access, diagnose and arrange treatment for patients.

Western Victoria PHN Chief Executive Officer, Dr Leanne Beagley, said the use of telehealth has been identified as a potential alternative to addressing some of the workforce challenges and can reduce the significant after hours burden placed on some GPs.

“My Emergency Dr is a current provider of telehealth services in Victoria and has experience working with rural health services,” Dr Beagley said.

“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.”

My Emergency Dr Chief Operating Officer, Dawn Floyd, said the video-call based service is staffed 24/7 by specialists in Emergency Medicine (FACEMs).

“Our emergency doctors are experts in making rapid, accurate assessments of all medical emergencies and can assess a patient’s situation via the built-in video on a smartphone or tablet. They can remotely assess, diagnose and arrange treatment including prescriptions, x-ray and pathology referrals.

"The MED doctors are all experienced specialist emergency physicians (FACEMs) who can provide layered support to the Urgent Care Centre, whenever there is a clinical need, 24/7.”

After hours is defined as:

  • outside 8am to 6pm weekdays;
  • outside 8am to 12noon on Saturdays; and
  • all day on Sundays and public holidays.

UCCs are located in small rural communities where higher levels of trauma care are not available. UCCs provide initial resuscitation and have a limited stabilisation capacity prior to early transfer to a Regional Trauma Service or Major Trauma Service.

Evaluations of previously funded after hours initiatives identified a need across the region to consider alternate models for the provision of 24/7 after hours care that is not dependent on GPs and addresses recruitment and retention workforce challenges that commonly impact UCCs.

Western Victoria PHN is also working in partnership with Deakin University to undertake an evaluation of the After Hours Telehealth Pilot to determine whether telehealth is a financially viable solution to manage after hours service priority issues and whether the model is sustainable.

West Wimmera Health Service and Stawell Regional Health have also commenced After Hours Sub Regional Engagement Projects. 

West Wimmera Health Service will deliver a shared database of stories to increase consumer awareness of locally available after hours services and their appropriate use within the Wimmera Southern Mallee Health Alliance region.

Stawell Regional Health will deliver a multidisciplinary education program that targets known skill deficits to extend the capacity of after hour’s service provision and strengthen referral processes for the needs of local communities.