The COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt reshaped healthcare in Australia and highlighted the true potential of digital healthcare. Along with changes to the way healthcare looks, digital and health policy innovations have been fast-tracked to support healthcare delivery while social distancing. We are seeing an increasing number of general practices embracing and delivering virtual healthcare, both improving access to care for the community and supporting GPs to work more efficiently.
Supporting general practices in Western Australia to deliver digital healthcare, WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) recently offered GP Innovation Grants of up to $1,500 per practice for the purchase of information technology equipment to participate in virtual programs such as telehealth video consultations, online meetings, webinars and more.
The team at Albany Medical Centre was one of the 235 general practices who took advantage of the Grant, using it to purchase a new laptop for their patients to access telehealth appointments.
Albany Medical Centre Practice Manager, Carolyn Aggis, said the practice has had increasing demand from patients and specialists for telehealth consultations to be held at their surgery, allowing the patient’s GP and/or their practice nurse to participate in the consultation.
“Not only does this deliver potentially better outcomes for the patient, it also provides an opportunity for our staff to engage and form relationships with participating specialists.
“The portability of the laptop gives us flexibility in the spaces we have available for use on any given day, giving us the freedom to offer appointments throughout the week. The telehealth appointments are delivered over a couple of platforms and we are finding the camera, sound and processing speed allows for a seamless consultation,” she said.
Livingston Medical’s Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe practices also utilised the Grant to purchase new laptops, enabling them to offer outreach services to surrounding areas.
Livingston Medical’s Business Director, Rachel Livingston, said the new laptops have meant the practice can now offer outreach services to Varley and the Shire of Jerramungup, who haven’t had service for a long time.
“Patients are delighted in the outreach clinics and the ability to inform the doctor of some history before their appointment. This means more quality time during the consult with the doctor,” she said.
WAPHA’s GP Innovation Grants program is not only helping general practices deliver better connected healthcare to their patients it is enabling general practitioners in regional areas to work more efficiently.
“Doctors in the country are extremely time poor due to often being solo practitioners, travelling between various locations, often 100km plus apart, being on-call 24 hours a day, managing a full GP patient list plus an emergency department and surgical list, as well as managing the practice itself. Any technology that can save time and streamline the process for the GP will absolutely make a huge difference to the doctor and their workforce,” Ms Livingston said.
Livingston Medical has embraced telehealth and introduced procedures that allow farmers, who can’t leave their farm, to still be able to access acute and general medical services.
“We can follow up with urgent results using a simple web link and webcam setup. The whole thing is absolutely pivotal to the health of people who live in the bush. COVID-19 has enabled the MBS item numbers, but this has created a true realisation that this technology and these item numbers need to stay. People who live 600km from their nearest city, like we do, need to be able to see a doctor and these grants have enabled the technology to deliver this vital service. We would absolutely love to be involved in any future technology grants,” Ms Livingston said.
Find out more about the work we are doing to support general practice.