Specialist emergency doctors will now be available at Hepburn Health Service 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 Hepburn Health Service’s UCC commenced this week and will run until 28 August 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.

Hepburn Health Service has also commenced its After Hours Sub Regional Engagement Project. This involves coordination of sponsored Rural and Isolated Practice Endorsed Registered Nurse (RIPERN) places within the Ballarat Goldfields region and increased access to education and support resources.

Photo (L-R): Western Victoria PHN Senior Manager - Ballarat Goldfields Diane Sartori, Hepburn Health Service Director of Nursing Debra-Lee Holman, Chief Operating Officer Phil Catterson, Nurse Unit Manager Mel Murphy and Western Victoria PHN CEO Leanne Beagley.

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 identified workforce challenges.

“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 a range of innovative after hours initiatives to assist primary healthcare service delivery and improve health outcomes across western Victoria.”

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.

Hepburn Health Service Chief Executive Officer, Maree Cuddihy, said the pilot project funded by the Western Victoria Primary Health Network aims to reduce the significant after hours burden placed on some GPs in small rural communities.

“The local GPs and nurses working in our Urgent Care Centre will have after hours access to emergency specialists for clinical advice, education and support. With other strategies currently underway, overall the pilot project will strengthen the after hours support locally,” Ms Cuddihy said.

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 will also work 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.