Remote Reconsidered Reimagined

Showing how telehealth is transforming communities.

Australia’s population has almost reached 26 million people – 72% live in major cities, while about 26% live in regional and 2% live in remote areas1 across 12,000 small towns dotted across the country’s vast landscape. Living “off the beaten track” certainly has its benefits – but it also comes with some challenges and limitations.

Living “off the beaten track” certainly has its benefits – most notably a strong sense of community and better personal wellbeing. It also comes with some challenges and limitations, living in remote areas is associated with higher levels of disease and injury yet limited access to sometimes basic and often the broader range of healthcare services. We recently worked with a national charity to demonstrate how its sustainable hybrid healthcare model is benefitting local communities.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has been incredibly tough on the Australian economy, its citizens and the healthcare system. But it has also unlocked exciting innovation in the way we live, work, make decisions, solve problems and access products and services. Technology is the key – and it’s being used to question the way we’ve always done things.

Rural and Remote Medical Services (RARMS) is a charity that has been caring for rural and remote Australian communities for the last 20 years. In 2021, we are asked to quantify and qualify the value it delivers to local communities.

Les Hems, Principal, Deloitte Consulting, says, “RARMS wanted to demonstrate the benefits of its healthcare model, especially during COVID-19, and the effectiveness of how it enhances local access to healthcare to improve the lives of people living in rural and remote areas. We have been able to support RARMS to develop evidence of the significant economic and social benefits of HealthAccess, its hybrid healthcare model.”

HealthAccess offers a long tail of benefits – including to patients, healthcare providers and the local community. It was established to focus on providing low-acuity care, offering services that are integrated within Local Health District (LHD) operations and that supplement in-person clinical care with virtual GP support. As a result of the new model the number of unnecessary patient transports from small communities to larger regional hospitals has significantly reduced, which in turn has saved unnecessary costs and created a number of benefits for patients who can now rely on receiving care in their local community.

Mark Burdack, CEO, RARMS, says, “In essence, what we’re trying to establish is a healthcare model that isn’t only successful in terms of continuity of primary health access for rural communities, but improves the hospital systems because it frees up vital resources so that they can focus on their core job of acute and emergency care.”

HealthAccess has already been successfully rolled out across more than 30 hospitals and, armed with evidence of the benefits, RARMS now has ambitious plans for replication and expansion of HealthAccess. Mark explains, “The more we can make this available, the more we can ensure rural people have better access to primary health care and rural GPs can achieve a better work/life balance.” 

“As well as improving access to remote care in vulnerable communities, HealthAccess aims to also makes working in rural and remote communities more attractive for GPs by providing better support and making patient loads more manageable.” 

Mark Burdack, RARMS CEO

 

HealthAccess has been designed to be a 24/7 on-demand virtual care solution to support better access to specialist GP care. It means that patients who present at a local remote or rural Emergency Department (ED) are triaged to determine if they require an immediate in-person consult in the ED – and are admitted or transferred to a larger hospital; or they can receive a HealthAccess virtual consult – in which case they receive the advice they need and return home, or are admitted to an underutilised local hospital, and monitored virtually by HealthAccess on the wards, if they require ongoing local care. 

Mark says, “The Australian Federal Government has recently created a new telehealth reimbursement item for primary healthcare. We’re trying to integrate this into a mainstream operating model of healthcare to support local communities even further that are struggling without access to local primary healthcare, or where the local rural GP needs support to achieve a good work/life balance.”

To measure HealthAccess’s effectiveness, in November 2021, Deloitte reviewed a Clinician Satisfaction Survey of clinicians, patient flow and management personnel involved in the delivery of ED services.

Shaun Deery, Manager, Deloitte reviewed the design and operation of HealthAccess was delighted with the results: “100% of HealthAccess service users said they would continue to refer patients, and 100% were satisfied with and confident in the level of care provided. They also said that 95% of patients were satisfied with the services they received.”

And it doesn’t end there. Not only is HealthAccess saving millions of dollars by avoiding patient transport costs, it’s also providing local patients with continuity of care in their community while enhancing the value propositions to GPs to work in remote and rural communities.

RARMS is now working with Allied Health service providers on an integrated healthcare initiative for remote communities using a hybrid model of on-site and telehealth delivered care, as well as expand its access to services to include physio, speech pathology, nutrition, dentistry and psychology. Small Australian towns have not had access to these services in their local community before.

 

 

1    https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/rural-remote-australians/rural-remote-health/contents/profile-of-rural-and-remote-australians

“The telehealth services facilitated in Hillston (which I believe were being tested for implementation over the last few months) have been absolutely fantastic and the staff in Hillston are feeling much more supported through this initiative.”  

HealthAccess patient