Regional telehealth program links GPs, specialists and aged care

Macedon Ranges and North Western Melbourne Medicare Local (MRNWM-ML) is hoping to prove that telehealth works to bridge the gap between residential aged care facilities and GPs in rural and regional communities with specialists who might be many kilometres away.

MRNWM-ML supports the primary healthcare sector over a large regional area of north-west Victoria from Bacchus Marsh to beyond the Macedon Ranges, as well as Melbourne’s inner north-west.

In 2012, it became involved in a telehealth program to link the area’s 40+ RACFs and 130 GPs via teleconferencing, and to use the telehealth network to connect with out of area specialists.

MRNWM-ML’s senior liaison officer for telehealth, Sandra Dellios, said all RACFs had been contacted and a survey had been created to gather information about their needs and views on how telehealth could assist them.

All GPs in the region had also been asked to answer an online survey of their needs, particularly in relation to aged care and developing relationships with specialists.

Ms Dellios and her team have been visiting RACFs in the region and have found a high level of interest in the program, she said.

“Over 60 per cent expressed interest, but for many ACFs getting set up and connected to the GPs is taking them some time”, as the facilities needed to identify what equipment best suited them and their requirements, Ms Dellios said.

“We don’t promote particular hardware or software; the practices use whatever satisfies their individual business requirements,” she said.

Some will use Skype as they are already using it, but others will investigate proprietary software. Reliability and security are elements being taken into consideration, she said.

Several RACFs in the region are already successfully using telehealth, but the survey highlighted some of the problem situations identified by RACFs that could be resolved or improved by using video consultations. These include the long waits to get appointments with specialists, the often long distances residents and carers had to travel to see specialists, and local GPs’ busy workloads, making it difficult to schedule visits to facilities when a number of residents are ill.

The online survey has been distributed to 130 GPs in the MRNWM-ML’s catchment area, Ms Dellios said. As well as the distance problems relating to specialists that RACFs identified, the GPs said they wanted to be able to develop closer relationships with specialists.

Ms Dellios said the survey found that GPs wanted closer links not just to assist their patients but also for their own professional development, and they saw that ease of connection by video would further such relationships.

In particular, GPs identified better access to specialist consultation in several areas, including cardiology, psychology, diabetes, neurology, mental health, and of particular importance for aged care, skin specialists.

She said one advantage of video consultation was the ability for GPs and RACFs to connect with distant specialists.

MRNWM-ML is also hoping to work with the Alfred Hospital burns unit to use video conferencing to help them connect with a practice in the region.

Posted in Aged Care

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