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Telehealth enabling access to great primary care in practices across the region

June 28, 2024

Access to health workforce in remote and rural communities continues to remain one of the greatest barriers in addressing health need in Queensland, particularly in the primary health care setting.

The introduction of telehealth in primary care settings through the PHN’s Virtual Integrated Practice (VIP) Program and Connected Health Care Grants has seen an increase in access to virtual care options for patients in the Darling Downs and West Moreton regions.

The VIP Program is a pilot study run to support the rural GP workforce and build practice sustainability. The model of service delivery involves an urban GP joining a rural general practice team to provide ongoing care to patients one or two days per week remotely via secure telehealth. The VIP GP joins the practice for a minimum of 12 months and works onsite for a short period (3–5 days) every 6-months.

Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN also offered the ‘Connected Health Care Grants’ to Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) located within the region to purchase the required equipment and/or enhance current information technology infrastructure for the purpose of increasing the number of video telehealth consultations offered to residents.

Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN supports the adoption of digital health tools and telehealth to:

  • access patient health information to support clinical decision making, patient safety and continuity of care
  • provide patient-centred care
  • provide quality care through remote monitoring, consultations and treatment using telehealth, ability to receive electronic scripts
  • streamline processes, reducing waiting times and reducing duplicate testing.

“Our PHN role includes workforce attraction, priority placement and support. And to be able to do this, we’ve had to be strategic and innovative, making the most of all the tools at our disposal – including digital technology,’ said Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN CEO, Lucille Chalmers.

In 2023, Goondiwindi Medical Centre developed a practice partnership program with Redbank Plaza Medical Centre. The partnership model sees three GPs from Redbank Plaza Medical provide 1-4 sessions each week of telehealth consultants.

Since the implementation of this model, 25% of Goondiwindi Medical Centre’s patient appointments have been through telehealth, attended by the three partner GPs.

“The model has proved invaluable to the community at such a crucial time with workforce shortages,” said Goondiwindi Medical Centre’s Practice Manager, Alicia Wynder.

PHN CEO Lucille Chalmers reflected on the significance of the relationship: “We recognise that not all health care professionals want to or are able to move to regional areas. But that shouldn’t mean regional people can’t have equitable access to the care they need, and partnerships such as these play a crucial role in filling that gap.”

Through this partnership, Goondiwindi Medical Centre and Redbank Plaza Medical Centre are improving healthcare equity by providing rural patients with the same access as those in metropolitan areas.

In 2023, the PHN supplied Clifton Medical Practices with a Visionflex All-in-One Telehealth Cart.

Since the introduction of the telehealth cart, the practice has had a telehealth GP every day, with approximately 70% of the patient cohort being seen via telehealth.

Adopting the technology has enabled their rural community to access quality primary care, as well as preventing unnecessary ED presentations and increasing efficiency through reduced travel time and costs for both patients and providers.

“The video health cart prevents unnecessary hospital presentations and enhances medical support, increasing access to GP and specialist service to residential aged care,” said Executive Director – Community, Rodney Watton.

“Telehealth is now a permanent, sustainable, and vitally important feature of Medicare offering doctors the opportunity to support RACF residents better and potentially avoiding the need for long journeys to see city-based specialists,” he said.

Killarney Memorial Aged Care are also using their PHN-funded Visionflex Telehealth Cart to provide patient-centred care three days per week.

Health Care Manager Danielle Hersant even reflected on how telehealth crucially mitigated an emergency situation.

“We did not have any doctors available, but through the Visionflex cart and with the aid of our RN, Dr Davis was able to diagnose, advise staff to call an ambulance, advise the RN of steps to take (ECG, laying and standing blood pressure), and manage the situation from afar calmly speaking to the patient and keeping her informed. Dr Davis spoke to the paramedics on arrival to give an overview of the situation, then called the hospital ED for a clinical handover.”

Since January 2024, the PHN have surveyed patients on their experiences in telehealth consultations as part of the VIP program evaluation, with the following results:

  • Over 94% of patients said that seeing a GP via telehealth was a good experience.
  • Over 96% felt comfortable communicating with the GP via telehealth.
  • Over 96% would use telehealth to see a GP again.
  • Over 90% of patients indicated that seeing a GP through telehealth achieved the same outcome as a face-to-face appointment would.
  • Over 94% said telehealth have improved theirs and their communities' access to GP services.

Through these partnerships, these practices are making significant contributions to the primary healthcare sector and advocating for the health of their rural communities.