REAL-TIME video technology will allow country-based general practitioners to have a well-deserved night off, knowing doctors will be on-hand to support nursing staff through the SA Virtual Emergency Service (SAVES).
The service utilises the existing Telehealth Network, and enables face-to-face consultations using video conferencing equipment between staff in country towns and doctors based at the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency in Adelaide.
Patients presenting with lower acuity illnesses, such as asthma and respiratory problems, children with rashes and fevers or confusion in the elderly will be seen by doctors with experience in rural communities.
SAVES clinical director Tim Kelly said the service would not replace rural GPs, but was designed to augment the service so they could have time off.
“Although its aimed at lower acuity, if people need to be seen urgently, the GP will still be there to see them,” he said.
In the program’s six-month pilot period, SAVES recorded about 150 calls from the 16 rural sites using the service, which operates between 11pm and 7am.
“Half of the people seen were admitted or transfered to a tertiary hospital,” Dr Kelly said.
There are currently more than 650 rural doctors throughout the state.
SAVES is the brainchild of the late Peter Chapman, the former chief medical advisor for Country Health SA, who wanted to ensure country residents received the same quality of service as those living in metropolitan areas.
Mr Chapman’s wife Elizabeth attended the SAVES launch and said she was delighted her husband’s vision had been realised.
“He was never short of ideas (and was) committed to country health,” Mrs Chapman said.
SAVES is a partnership between RDWA and Country Health SA and the project was launched on what would have been Mr Chapman’s 68th birthday.
RDWA chief executive Lyn Poole said SAVES had given country nurses a boost in confidence and capability.
“To be able to put eyes on the issue and speak directly to the patient, or look into the eyes of the nurse who is managing the patient adds an enormous dimension,” she said.
“Those small communities are as deserving as anybody else to have good health services.”
SAVES is operational at Karoonda, Lameroo, Meningie, Pinnaroo, Tailem Bend, Strathalbyn, Cleve, Cowell, Cummins, Elliston, Kimba, Streaky Bay, Wudinna, Laura, Hawker and Quorn.
Both Dr Kelly and Ms Poole said there were already discussions about expanding the service into more country hospitals to help relieve fatigue issues.