Boosting access to care: Rural communities see positive impact

March 2024

The new rural telehealth service by Ka Ora Telecare is making positive steps in improving healthcare accessibility in remote areas, garnering resounding praise from both patients and clinicians alike. 

The service, which rolled out in November last year and includes access to virtual GP or nurse practitioner appointments, to date, 3,286 patients have contacted Ka Ora from 363 practices. 

The service has swiftly gained momentum, with 87 of 200 plus eligible rural practices onboarded, underscoring the urgent need and widespread recognition of the potential of telehealth. The uptake of the service is proving to be a transformative lifeline for practices in remote areas, alleviating the strain on healthcare providers that has persisted for years. With the convenience of virtual consultations, practices have been able to reassess their rosters, leading to reduction or even elimination of weekday, weekend and public holidays after-hours rosters. Additionally, this flexibility afforded by telehealth has allowed practices to reduce the burden on clinicians while ensuring continuous access to care for patients. This shift not only improves work-life balance for healthcare professionals but also enhances the efficiency and sustainability of rural healthcare services, ultimately benefiting both providers and patients alike. 

Jess White from the Ka Ora Telecare leadership team says that the telehealth service has patient experience sitting at an average 4.8 star rating out of 5. Some of the patient feedback includes: 

“Amazing service. Just to be able to talk to a health professional in the night is such a settling thing. And she was so lovely. Thank you.”

“Outstanding service!! Cannot thank you enough for this service being available.” 

“Great, friendly appointment. Really appreciated it. First time user!” 

The positive feedback shows the direct impact telehealth is making, once again magnifying the constraints of long distances and related costs to medical facilities. Telehealth provides an additional and complementary channel of care to existing health providers, with patients experiencing convenience and peace of mind.

Equally compelling is the endorsement from clinicians who have embraced telehealth as a powerful tool in their arsenal. The value of delivering another channel of personalised care not only improves patient outcomes but also fosters a more sustainable healthcare system.

The service received positive feedback from the public and general practices, with Gary Reed, Chief Executive Officer of Clutha Health First, elaborating: “a number of our patients used the Ka Ora service; and found it worked really well so some positive feedback for the Ka Ora team”. 

“The work doesn’t stop here. Ka Ora’s rural telehealth service is available to anyone living in rural New Zealand throughout the summer and beyond. We’ve received great feedback about the service and I’m excited to see it continue to support our rural communities,” Mrs White says. 

“Reflecting on our recent busy holiday period, Ka Ora witnessed firsthand the unique healthcare needs of our rural patients and the incredible resilience of our Rural Communities. Throughout the holiday season, our clinical team, comprising Kaiāwhina, nursing triage, nurse practitioners, GPs, and emergency specialists, worked tirelessly to address an array of patient concerns. From being kicked by an unfriendly goat, to the need for interim medications while away on holiday, to new crushing chest pain, our team was ready to assist with a wide range of medical presentations,” Dr Emma Calvert, clinical director of Ka Ora Telecare says. 

“We're proud to share that our team managed to provide comprehensive care to 82 percent of patients who sought medical assessment through our telehealth service during this bustling period, with 10 percent of patients requiring further in-person assessment, where our clinicians referred to team in the local area. At the heart of our service are our core values, emphasising the delivery of high-quality episodic care. We are equally committed to supporting the continuity of care, ensuring that patients remain engaged with their enrolled practice.” 

“Our goal with Ka Ora is to increase access to primary care for our communities. The service is about complementing general practices and ensuring sustainability services in rural communities,” adds Mrs White.

The rural telehealth service is available to rural residents and visitors overnight from 5pm to 8am on weekdays and for 24 hours on weekends and public holidays.