Why supporting rural and remote care remains a top priority
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Why supporting rural and remote care remains a top priority

Better ways to support rural and remote healthcare will continue to be a top priority in Australia as both the government and industry stakeholders recognise the importance of enabling better health outcomes across the wider regional community.

Government initiatives supporting rural communities 

Rural health in Australia has received considerable airtime in recent years. In 2017, a new telehealth initiative was announced as part of the federal budget, aimed at addressing the higher suicide rates in rural Australia and the city–country divide in the provision of health services. Likewise, we also saw the appointment of a national rural health commissioner, tasked with filling the gap of medical experts by improving rural health policies.

Meanwhile earlier in 2018, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) and the Federal Government announced they signed a Compact as part of a mission to ensure Australia has the right mix of health professionals to deliver healthcare to those in need, particularly those in rural and regional areas.

The announcement also formally recognised the ACRRM’s position as a key national stakeholder on behalf of rural communities and acknowledges the College as a peak body in setting standards for training general practitioners and rural generalist doctors.

Some of the key priority areas of the Compact include

  • Working with the Rural Health Commissioner to develop National Rural Generalist Pathways
  • Training the Future Rural and Remote Medical Workforce initiative, where both the ACRRM and the Government will work to improve workforce distribution, reform general practice training arrangements, and support non-vocationally registered doctors to obtain Fellowship.
  • Making rural and remote mental health services
  • Introducing the the Doctor Health and Wellbeing initiative, outlining plans to ensure the ACRRM continues to play a key role in setting quality standards and developing innovative models of care to support rural and remote practitioners at all stages of their career.

How telehealth can support remote and rural care

 Digital Health has been widely recognised as high on the agenda to support rural and remote care. This is evidenced further by the Compact, with the ACRRM and the Government planning to collaborate to foster innovation and wider the adoption of digital health strategies. Importantly, the Compact recognises the potential for telehealth to enhance rural health care but not as a replacement for face-to-face services.

“Harnessing the potential of technology to enable ideal healthcare in Australia is especially important for those living in rural and remote areas where access to healthcare and face-to-face patient-clinician consultations are harder to come by,” says Dr Charlotte Middleton, GP and Chief Medical Advisor at MedicalDirector. “Telehealth technologies such as video consultations can help ease workforce challenges as distance no longer impedes the delivery of care – freeing up time, money and resources.”

Virtual care and the cloud

 Cloud-based solutions can provide the connectivity and interoperability needed to effectively manage healthcare in more remote areas, where providers can be few and far between and the costs of establishing and managing locally hosted servers prohibitively high.

“A number of practices we’ve been speaking to recently administer care off-site and needed a database they could access and utilise regardless of where they were,” Dr Middelton says. “Helix, our cloud-based clinical software solution, doesn’t rely on a locally hosted server – it offers flexibility and streamlined administration processes so more time can be spent on delivering care.”

“Healthcare ‘in the cloud’ allows for the fast and secure movement of information in real time – delivering vital information and insights to where they’re needed, regardless of distance.”

Who’s getting it right?

As a fast growing rural and regional medical practice, Downs Rural Medical needed a scalable and sustainable healthcare ecosystem to streamline workflow and appointments, in order to free up time to focus on the complexities of rural health treatments and procedures.

Dr John Hall, Downs Rural Medical’s Practice Principal, said the practice offers a wide range of services to meet the healthcare demands of the rural and regional area, including women’s health, vasectomies, chronic disease, skin cancer medicine and emergency care.

But as a busy and growing practice, in 2017, Downs Rural Medical decided to integrate the online appointment platform, HotDoc, to its existing Clinical and Pracsoft ecosystem to streamline their busy practice, boost patient engagement and enhance their digital footprint.

“Having HotDoc integrated with MedicalDirector & Pracsoft has been a real game changer,” Dr Hall said. “It’s revolutionised our practice, had a positive impact on streamlining the patient booking process, helped increase the number of new patients and improve our overall digital footprint and online presence. With the online booking option, we’ve also noticed a significant reduction in the burden on reception.”