After Hours Telehealth Pilot Launches at Great Ocean Road Health

Specialist emergency doctors will now be available at Great Ocean Road Health’s Lorne and Apollo Bay campuses during the after hours period, thanks to a new telehealth pilot being delivered by Western Victoria Primary Health Network (PHN) and My Emergency Dr (MED).

The new After Hours Telehealth Pilot has been launched across several Urgent Care Centre’s (UCC) in the Western Victoria PHN region. The pilot at Lorne Community Hospital’s UCC commenced on 2 September 2019 and will run until 28 August 2020 and the Apollo Bay Hospital UCC pilot will start on 30 September 2019 and run until 25 September 2020.

The video-call based service will be used by Urgent Care Centre medical 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.

Great Ocean Road Health has also commenced its After Hours Sub Regional Engagement Project. It is delivering a regional approach to workforce planning and shared education resources for after hours emergency services across the region and documenting shared learning from existing urgent care centre models of care.

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.

“Western Victoria PHN has provided in excess of $550,000 for innovative after hours initiatives to assist primary healthcare service delivery and improve health outcomes across western Victoria.”

Great Ocean Road After Hours Telehealth Pilot launch
Acute Nurse Unit Manager, Jason Phieler, Great Ocean Road Health Acting CEO, Carissa Brock and Western Victoria PHN CEO, Dr Leanne Beagley, at the Lorne Community Hospital Urgent Care Centre.

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.

Great Ocean Road Health Acting CEO, Carissa Brock, said the aim of this initiative is to provide a scalable model of care to address after-hours health care challenges in rural and remote communities.

“Historically our General Practitioners have carried the bulk of the on-call support to the community during the evenings and weekends as well as having a full patient load during the day. This has diminished their work life balance and their ability to be able to continue in a rural GP role,” Ms Brock said.

“Patients of both Apollo Bay and Lorne, as well as community members and tourists to the area, are benefiting from the project. Patients and nurses use an iPad to talk directly to a specialist emergency doctor who is on-call 24/7. Other clinicians such as Nurse Practitioners, nurses and GP Registrars are benefiting directly through increased support and job satisfaction. Serious medical cases are still referred for treatment to our partner hospitals in Geelong and Colac in accordance with best practice guidelines.”

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.

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