Virtual consultations: Improving rural patients’ access to specialists

11 November 2021

Stroke survivor Jade Petersen is grateful for Tamworth Hospital's installation of new teleconference technology, meaning she didn’t have to wait six months to see a specialist.

The new meeting room technology provides an easy, stable, reliable, and well-supported platform for clinicians to provide specialist care for rural and remote patients. It is designed to complement existing services by connecting patients with clinical expertise. The teleconference technology has been provided by eHealth NSW and is supporting Hunter New England LHD clinical service delivering virtual consults

It is expected to have a profound and positive impact on the health of people in the Tamworth area.

“I literally got the shock of my life. I was in a supermarket carpark. My friend was there with me and my two kids were in the car. When it happened, I didn’t fall over but sat down because I thought my legs were going to give out. My friend saw and said my face looked like candle wax melting. She called 000. Luckily the kids were in the car and didn’t see it. By the time the ambulance arrived, my face was back to normal and they took me straight up to hospital,” Jade said.

After the scan, they spoke with a Telestroke specialist at John Hunter Hospital [via the new meeting room technology] who prescribed clot busting medication.

Since discharging, she has already had a follow up appointment at Tamworth Hospital using the virtual meeting room technology.

“There was going to be a 6-12 month wait to see a specialist at Tamworth or John Hunter Hospital. I thought that was a long time but that was what was expected in regional areas where we don’t always have specialists close by. So I am very grateful the new teleconference is an option. It’s comforting and reassuring. The family were gob-smacked I could get to see a specialist so quickly,” she said.

“If I didn’t have to go to Newcastle, it would’ve been a six-hour return trip and with two kids and full-time work and time away from family, that would have been a challenge.

As a stroke survivor, Jade said she looks at life and the health system a bit differently now. “You don’t take it for granted as I did before. My arm feels really heavy and I have a consistent headache. Nothing major luckily. I can do everything I did beforehand and for that I’m grateful. A lot of people don’t come out of it as well as I did. We are lucky to have this. It will be good for regional areas like Tamworth,” she said.

Dr Carlos Esperon said he is very passionate about ensuring patients have access to specialists in regional, rural and remote areas.

“Tamworth has two excellent local stroke neurologists but many other areas lack local specialists, so Telehealth [virtual consultation] access is crucial. For instance, I have been doing a Telestroke clinic for the last 2 years at Manning Hospital, where there are no stroke physicians,” Dr Esperon said.

“From a personal perspective, this is very important to me. Originally, I’m from Spain, and I grew up in a rural region (Galicia), so I am very passionate about getting the best healthcare (and access to research and clinical trials) to those patients who live in rural areas,” he said.

Approximately 196 meeting rooms across 15 NSW Local Health Districts have had the teleconference technology installed since 2019, with more to come.

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