Telehealth helping GPs improve care for regional patients

Regional GP Dr Damien Zilm says the expansion of Telehealth has been a fantastic development for remote patients.

Regional GP Dr Damien Zilm says the expansion of Telehealth has been a fantastic development for remote patients.

Speaking ahead of Telehealth Awareness Week 25–29 June, he said country patients now received higher quality and more patient-centred care because they had better access to clinicians.

Dr Zilm is both a provider and a user of Telehealth.

He works between Leonora and Laverton in the remote Goldfields, and also at the Northam Emergency Department and the Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS).

As a GP, Telehealth enables him to give more integrated care to remote patients who are seeing a specialist.

“Telehealth helps people to stay in their own community, helps them stay connected to their own GP, and allows the GP to incorporate the specialist’s care plan into their own management, so all of us are on the same page.”

Dr Zilm said he felt Telehealth led to better clinical outcomes and had a significant impact on the general wellbeing of patients.

“A Laverton patient without a car who has to see a specialist in Perth would have to catch the Thursday bus out of town, and would not be able to return for a week,” he said.

Emergency patients were also able to avoid stressful and costly flights to Perth and leave the RFDS free to treat other patients.

“For example, as a remote area GP I have been able to use the ETS to augment the care of very unwell patients and in other situations I have been able to use telehealth for tele-mental health reviews to help manage my patients and avoid the need for them to be transferred,” Dr Zilm said.

Dr Zilm said that the vast majority of clinicians and patients who had used Telehealth were immediate converts, however, there were some minor issues.

“Local GPs connecting with specialists is about time management – communication at both clinics is key when you are trying to match appointment times.

“Clinicians who are on the same page and who want the best outcome for their patients can make it happen.”

Telehealth allows country health consumers to have consultations using video technology.

It is under the spotlight this week as part of Telehealth Awareness Week 25–29 June.

The week has been organised by the WA Country Health Service to highlight that health services by Telehealth are now widely available to country patients to reduce the time, cost and stress of travelling to appointments.

Telehealth also enables family and carers to be involved in appointments and care coordination. 

It is available for more than 30 specialties including emergency care, oncology, palliative care, mental health, stroke emergency care and rehabilitation, surgical follow-up and education for chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma.

Clinicians can find out more about Telehealth by calling 1300 367 166 or visiting the Telehealth website.

Dr Zilm is a GP working in Laverton, Leonora and Northam, and is the GP lead for the Statewide Emergency Telehealth Service and ITS services. He is on the WAPHA board as Country PHN chair and is the WAGPET chair.