Health

Virtual doctors to treat patients 24/7 in country WA

Perth-based doctors will soon provide video guidance around the clock to nurses dealing with emergencies in more than 75 regional hospitals.

The Emergency Telehealth Service creates virtual emergency rooms at regional hospitals and nursing posts using specialised cameras and monitors that can be controlled by doctors in Perth hospitals.

They guide on-site nurses to provide treatment to the patients.

WA Country Health Service regional project manager Yvonne Zardins said the service’s doctors had already treated more than 38,000 patients across 2.5 million sq km of regional WA since 2012. But the service had only been available until 11pm.

“At the moment [ETS] turns off at 11 o’clock at night, and [staff] revert back to their standard telephone call to get assistance,” she said.

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Peter Sprivulis treats a patient via video conference. PHOTO: WACHS.

“ETS is a really positive thing for the sites. It gives the nurses a lot of confidence, it gives the patients much better care, it enables nurses to actually save lives.

“If someone’s having a heart attack, the nurse can get the ETS doctor ‘in the room’, the doctor can see the heart tracing on the ECG machine … they can talk to the nurse.

“Actually having that doctor there to support [the nurses] and enable them to give that drug … that is what is really changing lives.”

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Nurse receives training in a mock-up emergency department. PHOTO: WACHS.

The project started with just eight regional locations in 2012, but now has more than 75.

Mrs Zardins said it had a “monumental” impact on patient outcomes in critical situations, including heart attacks.

She said both patients and practitioners would welcome the extension of operating hours.

“To actually make it available overnight, and mean that it’s a 24/7 service, is a big thing that all the nurses and the patients want,” she said.

Council of Remote Area Nurses of Australia director of professional services Geri Malone said internet connectivity was vital for country health services.

“It’s great. It really does give them that immediate contact to get advice on a particular presentation in real time,” Mrs Malone said.

“It’s very reliant on having good connectivity, which we know is still quite variable in Australia, particularly in rural and remote areas.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, people living outside major cities are 16 per cent more likely to report mental or behavioural problems.

Recent changes to the Mental Health Act have allowed nurses to use emergency telehealth services for mental health patients. Mrs Zardins said the system would soon be equipped to deal with them.

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