Posted on February 21, 2017
A trial is underway in South Australia to investigate how telemedicine can be applied to help doctors in rural and remote areas access better healthcare for themselves.
“The initiative has arisen as a way to address a specific need of rural GPs for improved access to skilled and independent GP care”, says Dr Roger Sexton, rural GP and Medical Director of Doctors’ Health SA, a program formed in 2010 to support better health of doctors and students across the state.
What is overlooked is that whilst rural communities may experience difficulty accessing timely health care and resources for treatment, it can be even more difficult for rural doctors when they are unwell.
“In the past, some rural doctors haven’t had many options other than self-treatment of acute infections, for example” he said, but also adding that this has extended to self-treatment of other acute problems and chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and even mood disorders.
This can be hazardous and contrary to professional and regulatory recommendations to have an independent GP for ongoing care, or at least seek independent medical oversight.
But we understand the realities of rural and remote practice. Medical care of rural doctors is sometimes a fragmented blend of self-care, self-referral and investigation and intermittent visits to their GP, if they have one.
We are seeking to address this by offering a telemedicine service which brings timely, professional and independent GP assessment to our colleagues in the bush.
This will allow for a more useful initial assessment of a remote doctor in need compared to a phone call which denies the treating doctor the ability to observe body language, which, as we know is 70% of communication
Rural doctors may be under-screened, under-immunized and suffer a higher incidence of psychological distress. “A strong case exists for this approach and there is widespread support for the concept amongst rural doctors” he said.
The service links a remote doctor working in South Australia to one of a team of experienced GPs via a telemedicine platform to discuss their health concerns and future risks discuss arrangements for face-to –face follow up.
Dr Sexton said whilst technology is improving all the time, it is not intended to be an ongoing substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a skilled GP.
“Geographical barriers should not be allowed to stand in the way of optimizing the health and wellbeing of our rural colleagues who provide such an essential service to their appreciative rural communities”, he said.
The trial is being externally evaluated and has been supported by the Country SA PHN. It will continue at least until July 2017. See http://www.doctorshealthsa.com.au/telemedicine for further details.