Looking for Dr right: nationwide matchmaking pilot program to boost access to GP care

RACGP

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is launching an innovative nationwide GP ‘matchmaking’ pilot program to improve access and quality of care for patients, particularly those in rural and remote communities.

The Practice to Practice pilot program will connect practices and GPs in diverse geographical areas and run from 1 March 2021 – 31 December 2021. During this time, urban practices and GPs will match with their counterparts in rural and remote Australia to share skills and support, and maximise quality services for patients across the country.

Practices and GPs can register their interest to be involved on the RACGP website. Once accepted, they’ll be able to connect and match with others in the pilot to tackle challenges together, while GPs will benefit from professional development opportunities, peer support, the opportunity to locum in the other practice – and experience life as a working GP in another location, opening up new career possibilities.

Places for the pilot program are limited and registrations of interest are now open online: https://www.racgp.org.au/the-racgp/faculties/rural/practice-to-practice

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements, who practices in Townsville, said the pilot program was off to a flying start, with more than 40 practices submitting expressions of interest before the launch.

“As Australia’s largest professional general practice organisation representing urban, rural and remote GPs, the RACGP is perfectly placed to facilitate these connections,” he said.

“This pilot program will benefit not only rural GPs and their communities, but also those in the city. As a GP who visits remote towns myself, I know the valuable experiences we can offer our colleagues in the city – rural GPs consistently report high job satisfaction, rewarding community connection and enjoyment from a diverse scope of practice.

“Ultimately, we want to improve access to high quality general practice care nationwide.

“We know that rural Australia faces serious GP workforce shortages. However, at the same time there are GPs who would like to support rural locations more, be it through regular rural placements or telehealth support, but don’t feel they have the connections or confidence to do so.

“The Practice to Practice pilot program will expose GPs to the challenges and benefits of living in a different area. This is significant because the research has shown that GPs who gain exposure to work and life in a rural community are more likely to choose to go rural permanently.

“This is a simple solution that can make a big difference

“We know these arrangements work. There have been practices doing it in different ways across the country for many years, and their patients and communities are reaping the benefits.

“That’s why the RACGP has taken this step to create a national pilot program recognising and sharing these types of arrangements, so more practices and communities can benefit.”

One such arrangement is a fly in, fly out model formed by Dr Lou Sanderson, who splits her time between her home state of Victoria and a remote Aboriginal community in North East Arnhem Land.

Dr Sanderson started doing remote locums four years ago to Elcho Island, to support the Galiwin’ku Aboriginal community of around 2500 people. When she’s at home in Victoria, she provides part time remote support to the Elcho Island health service, including telehealth and administration.

Dr Sanderson said her work was both incredibly challenging and rewarding.

“It’s much more than typical GP work – we encounter extreme health issues on a daily basis, and we have to care for patients that require hospital or other specialist care until they can be transported out,” said Dr Sanderson.

“I intend to keep returning to Galiwin’ku for many years to come. In my time serving this community, I’ve seen how gaining a greater understanding of their language and culture, and establishing trust enhances our ability to provide appropriate care.

“Australia is a first world country. It’s a tragedy that the First Nations people of this country experience health and living standards of a developing nation.

“The fly in, fly out model can bring quality health care to remote communities, while also enabling non-Indigenous people to learn and experience the rich culture of Australia’s First Nations people.”

Dr Clements urged GPs and practices to register their interest for the Practice to Practice pilot program.

“As a rural GP who’s spearheaded different models of care to ensure access to remote communities, I know they can work. When practices and GPs in different locations team up it’s a win-win for them, and their patients,” said Dr Clements.

“Ultimately, by equipping our membership of over 41,000 GPs across the nation with the tools to connect, support each other and tackle workforce challenges, we can address the health gap between rural and urban Australia. Because everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, no matter their postcode.”

The idea for the Practice to Practice program was formed at the RACGP Rural Summit 2020, which brought together key stakeholders to identify practical solutions to the challenges facing the rural GP workforce.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length.