Dial a doctor
SOUTH Gippsland’s health services are turning to technology in a bid to overcome a dearth of doctors in the region.
Patients attending urgent care services late at night will soon be consulting doctors in Traralgon via video-conferencing technology.
Urgent care centres at Leongatha, Korumburra, Foster and Yarram hospitals will receive mobile video-conferencing equipment that nurses will use to communicate with a doctor at Latrobe Regional Hospital, Traralgon between 9pm and 7am.
A camera will be used to show a doctor at Traralgon the patient’s ailment and the doctor will offer advice.
The move, funded by a grant of more than $350,000, seeks to fill a void in after hours urgent care in South Gippsland.
Doctors typically work all day and are then on-call to attend to urgent care callouts in the evening and throughout the night, and then return to clinical appointments the next day.
This not only exhausts existing doctors but also hinders medical centres’ ability to recruit new doctors, as potential applicants are often deterred by the requirement to be on-call after hours.
Gippsland Southern Health Service’s executive director of nursing Vicki Farthing said South Gippsland medical staff could also use the technology to connect with other larger health services in Melbourne.
“Junior GPs here will also be able to use the technology to get a second opinion from a senior GP without having to transfer the patient,” she said.
Similar systems have been used with success in north-east Victoria and Geelong and Colac.
Ms Farthing said the video-conferencing service would soon be complemented by nurses with higher levels of training – endorsed as rural and isolated practice nurses – who are able to treat patients with lower level conditions rather than calling in a doctor.
“We have three staff who have completed the course and they will predominantly work after hours,” she said.
“The other part of the tele-health program is that we will be upskilling our nurses and they will be able to do more suturing and plastering, and that will help relieve the pressure on the GPs, particularly after hours.”
Ms Farthing said the video-conferencing service would be an alternative to face to face consultations for patients with non-life threatening conditions.
Asked if governments at state and federal level could fill the shortage of doctors by requiring international doctors to work in rural areas and be on-call, Ms Farthing said smaller health services such as Gippsland Southern were not in a position to support overseas doctors.
She said such doctors would require supervision and could only work in fully funded emergency departments.
Funding for the tele-health program was provided by Better Care Victoria, part of the State Government.
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