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Bringing care closer to home – a rural and remote perspective

Tuesday 22 March 2022

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Helen Murray, Chief Information Officer, South, Central and North West Hospital and Health Services.

What are some of the key challenges faced by rural and remote communities compared to those living in metro areas?

Our rural and remote communities face unique challenges that impact access to the same level of health care as those living in metro areas.

For example, some driveways are more than 100km to get to the main road plus the drive to the nearest hospital could take half a day on top of that – and this might just be for a 10-minute appointment!

It’s also a different way of life. Priorities are different. Those who have a property with stock, find it hard to take time away to travel to a health-related appointment. For some, this may mean skipping the appointment or not making the appointment at all.

In addition to distance, the extremes of weather, like drought, flood, heat waves and dust storms isolate these communities even more.

The ability to access health services the same as everyone in Queensland, can have a massive impact on health outcomes making it challenging for preventing chronic disease, avoiding hospitalisations and supporting mental health issues in these communities.

What are the top three things you are most excited about from the strategy?

If I had to pick just three (which is hard!), it would have to be the overarching vision of the strategy to deliver care closer to home. Being able to receive the same level of care without the need to travel long distances will have such a positive impact on these communities and help improve health outcomes in the outback.

Secondly, it would be the opportunities technology provides to improve wellbeing in our communities. We can leverage innovations like virtual care, apps and patient portals where members of the community can be supported, empowered and better informed to manage their own health.

Lastly, having technology that enables collaborative, connected and compassionate care through combining general practice, primary care and acute care information. Having visibility across the care continuum means we can use that valuable data to support health prevention and reduce incidence of chronic disease.

What is our biggest technology challenge in rural and remote areas?

Connectivity is key. Without consistent and reliable connectivity, we can have aspirations, but would not have the underpinning technology capability to deliver. This is the unique part about the strategy – it focusses on getting the foundations right. It’s about uplifting core infrastructure in those areas so that our hospitals and facilities are digital ready and can get on board with new solutions.

Thanks to the strategy, we are already exploring satellite redundancy at Mornington Island to help maintain connectivity and our very remote communities are really excited about these steps forward.

If you had to pass the baton on to a new CIO working in a rural and remote setting, what would be your one piece of advice?

The first step, without hesitation, should be to get to know the people, the place, the challenges and the services. I started with a listening tour, where I enjoyed yarning with health staff, community members, local mob and technology providers. Delivery of health services in rural and remote areas is different – it’s personal – but not possible to provide equitably without leveraging technology. Whether that be a printed prescription from our General Practice system, in home nurses using smart devices, remote nurses using satellite phones in our clinic-based ambulances responding to a 000 call, allied health using video calls for exercise lessons or digital radiology…. you have to know the patch to work out what technology is going to make a difference. Then, get out there, make it happen!

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Last updated: 28 March 2022