To combat the difficulties in drawing GPs to rural areas, a social enterprise taking over a clinic on the Far South Coast has devised a way to have a hands-on approach for its patients while also connecting to doctors from the city.
Creators of Community Ownership will be taking over the management of the Curalo Medical Clinic in Eden in November and plans on using a reverse telehealth system for its patients.
The idea of telehealth is already widespread in the medical community and usually involves connecting a patient to a GP over the phone or via a video link.
With reverse telehealth, a patient will be able to come into the clinic where they will meet with a nurse in person, then chat to a GP online who could be working from anywhere in the country.
“We believe the Connected Clinicians service is unique to the Bega Valley,” Creators’ director of communications Damien Hickman said.
He said the clinic was running ads asking for GPs to move to Eden to work for the clinic, but was competing with every other rural practice, which led to the reverse telehealth idea.
Mr Hickman said patients would be able to go to their clinic where a nurse could get a sense of how they were going in person, then would support them during their consultation with an online GP.
Belinda Morris, co-founder of Creators, said their innovation was to reverse the telehealth process by having the patient attend the clinic to be seen by a doctor who was offsite.
“Not only does this take away the worry of doing things online on your own, but it allows us to check in on the patient’s health and wellbeing during their visit,” she said.
“This is especially important for our more vulnerable patients whose health needs are invariably the greatest.”
Mr Hickman said the “spark” for their reverse telehealth was a recent $5000 donation from Morgans Merimbula which would go towards upgrading equipment and creating a dedicated space for the system. Next, Creators will start advertising for GPs to participate.
“We are recruiting at the moment,” Mr Hickman said.
“We’ve put the word out that this is definitely going to be something that is going to happen.”
Creators has been trying to attract a new doctor to the area to allow the current GP to retire and Mr Hickman said they hadn’t had anyone seek to fill the position yet, but were continuing the campaign.
“That’ll take time, like it does for most rural practices,” he said.
April Merrick, co-founder of Creators, said many doctors cared about the need to improve access in rural communities, but for personal and professional reasons were resistant to making the move.
“Our hope is that once connected to the community they would consider a locum placement and discover how great it is to live on the Far South Coast,” she said.
“Not only will the people of Eden get greater access to a doctor in the short-term, but this could be a cunning way of recruiting medical staff to our, and other, rural areas.”
Creators will start a transition period for the clinic in October before taking over the reins in November.