West Coast case study – Closing the distance

  • West Coast DHB - Telemedicine Equipment
    West Coast DHB - Telemedicine Equipment

May 2015

On the rural West Coast, a trip to the GP traditionally involved a long drive – and seeing a hospital specialist could require several hours on the road each way.

  • Region:West Coast
  • How:Video Conference
  • What:Patient Consultation
  • Specialty:
  • Phase:Active

That’s changing, thanks to modern high-definition video links – which are being deployed in eight towns up and down the Coast – from Karamea in the north to Haast in the south.

Those towns have medical centres staffed round the clock by rural nurse specialists who provide most of the care. A GP is only on site one day a week.

In the past, if a patient needed to see the GP they often faced a six-day wait or a long drive to one of the provincial centres.

Greymouth GP Greville Wood says patients in those towns are now able to book a video link – with a GP or specialist in Greymouth or Westport.

‘The nurse stays with them during that hook-up to carry out any measurements that may be required, to support the patient and to begin planning follow-up care.

‘It’s surprisingly good – tonnes better than a telephone. I’ve actually found that some patients can speak more freely over this video link. I don’t know why that is but they discuss things they would never have discussed in-person. Although it is still an important part of the relationship that we do see them in person when possible,’ Dr Wood says.

Using these video units – known as ‘telemedicine’ – includes a second handheld video camera, so the doctor can see things like skin lesions or rashes in extreme close-up.

Jenny Robertson, who manages Buller Health in Westport, says advances such as this help them to cope with a chronic shortage of doctors on the Coast.

At Buller Health, which is open 24 hours a day, GPs provide their expertise not only to their patients but also to patients in overnight beds in places like their acute medical ward.

‘It’s very exciting the way GPs are working alongside staff from the health board in teams,’ Jenny says. ‘A year ago we introduced a shared patient record, so people caring for a patient can see the full picture when providing treatment.

‘We don’t talk about primary health and secondary health on the Coast – we just talk about health,’ Jenny Robertson says.

New telemedicine equipment which is being used across the West Coast is enabling patients to link up with GPs, hospital specialists and others – who may be hundreds of kilometres away.

This case study was originally published in the Better, Sooner, More Convenient Health Care in the Community ebooklet (on the Ministry of Health website).