An innovative new Mater Health service is helping GPs respond to the growing need to access specialist health services in remote and regional Queensland.
The Queensland eConsultant Partnership Program allows GPs to tap into Mater specialists through a secure messaging system to request expert guidance on patient care.
The new service has been accessed by dozens of general practices in locations across the state, including Mt Isa, Charleville, Cunnamulla, Roma, Jimboomba, St George, Stradbroke Island and Surat.
Patients in remote and rural areas frequently face barriers in accessing specialist care due to the shortage of consultants outside metropolitan areas, leaving many forced to wait and travel long distances for treatment.
The Queensland eConsultant Partnership Program provides specialist advice to GPs within three days if they need advice regarding medicines and the treatment of chronic conditions such as hyperthyroidism, COPD, diabetes and heart failure.
Dr Caroline Nicholson, Director Operations and Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Health System Reform and Integration, Mater Research, worked in partnership with Primary Health Networks, general practices and Queensland Health to bring the new service to Queensland.
“Patients in remote areas can often wait so long to access the right care that their health deteriorates, and the likelihood of an avoidable hospital admission is increased,” Dr Nicholson said.
“Allowing rural and remote GPs the opportunity to ‘tap into’ our Mater specialists’ expertise in a timely and convenient manner can be life-saving for these communities.
“Mater’s eConsultant program is of huge benefit to patients as their concerns are addressed in under three days, instead of facing a long and stressful wait of up to a year in some cases.”
Dr Nicholson’s project earned her Mater’s 2022 Innovator of the Year Award – and GPs have also welcomed eConsultant’s impact on patient care.
Dr Loselani Pouesi, a Mount Isa GP, said there was a lack of specialists in the region for his orthopaedic and gastroenterology patients.
“Mater’s eConsultant program has been hugely beneficial to rural GPs and their patients,” Dr Pouesi said.
“Once my patients get referred to out-patients they can face a long waiting list, sometimes up to 365 days’ wait. This can be devastating for the patient.
“The eConsultant program means our practice gets expert medical advice available at our fingertips – usually with a response within 24 to 48 hours.”
“Hopefully, this program will continue to support us in the rural areas. We really need that.”
Dr Narelle Fagermo, Head of General Medicine at Mater Hospital Brisbane, has been supporting GPs through the eConsultant program since its start.
“In this day and age, with a changing population, we need to have different ways of being able to access specialists’ help,” Dr Fagermo said.
Maree Knight, Mater’s Director of Innovation, said the Queensland eConsultant Partnership Program was another example of Mater being at the forefront of healthcare innovation.
“Although Mater’s hospitals are based in Brisbane and major regional cities, we are determined to support healthcare across every corner of Queensland,” Ms Knight said.
“We have the clinical expertise and the innovative know-how to offer pioneering health solutions to regional and remote practitioners – and their patients.”