MOYNE Health Services is searching for a solution after figures reveal higher rates of patients being transferred to Warrnambool Base Hospital in the two months since doctors stopped offering on-call services at its urgent care centre.
Since the start of the year, the Port Fairy hospital centre has been entirely nurse operated aside from weekends when two external doctors are available on-call.
During the week, nurses rely on My Emergency Dr, an app that can connect to accredited doctors around the world to provide an online emergency consultation via Facetime, instead of in person.
Moyne Health would not disclose how much it paid for the service due to contractual agreement concerns.
The new urgent care model comes after the service said doctors at Port Fairy Medical Clinic stopped offering on-call services to the centre during the week.
In their place, an extra urgent care registered nurse was employed full time for between $120,000 to $150,000.
Three nurses were also provided with additional training, funded by Moyne Health.
Urgent care registered nurse Sharon Lenehan said it took some time to get used to arranging doctor consults over Facetime in lieu of the typical hospital system of paging a doctor to see a patient.
"You just have to hold the phone and it's basically like a regular consult, they can assess a patient on Facetime and then fax their orders, reports or scripts through," she said.
"They can be anywhere in the world, you get called through to a concierge who will ask the urgency of the consultation, and then they call back.
"It's early days like anything, some people like the idea and some don't, but we haven't had any complaints and I think people have been quite impressed with it."
Moyne Health chief executive Jackie Kelly said it was the way of the future.
"It's like electric cars, it's the new modern way of rural medicine," she said.
It's been just over a year since the new multi million-dollar urgent care centre opened its doors.
Two nurses man the centre at all times, with one extra urgent care nurse staffed from 10am to 6pm.
Patient numbers presenting to the 24/7 centre increased by more than 700, from 943 patients in 2018 to 1714 in 2019.
Serious urgent patients are transferred to the Warrnambool Base Hospital.
Last year 11 per cent of patients who presented to Port Fairy's urgent care centre were transferred to Warrnambool for treatment.
In the first two months of the centre's nurse-only model, the number of patients transferred to Warrnambool increased to 14 per cent.
Ms Kelly said the organisation was "still investigating" further options that could include employing public doctors.
"We see six patients a day on average which has nearly doubled from 2018," she said.
"Our patient numbers are up nearly 1000, the numbers speak for themselves really, without urgent care, places like Warrnambool are inundated.
"Patient numbers have increased even without GPs here, keeping in mind GPs are still providing the same services to residents and acute patients."
Moyne Health received $2.1 million to fund the centre, but a funding shortfall meant $700,000 had to be raised by the Port Fairy community.
Bed numbers in the hospital's acute ward were reduced from 15 to 12 to accommodate the build.
"It's not about bells and whistles, it's not about white elephants, it's about providing a service to the community," Ms Kelly said.
"We had more than 1700 presentations, that's 1700 that get a local service that don't have to go to Warrnambool."
South West Coast MP Roma Britnell, who was a nurse for 30 years, said it was a challenging time for regional health services.
"It's a real shame that the community raised $700,000 with the expectation that they would be able to go to an urgent care centre that had a doctor there, there is a problem that needs addressing," she said.
"If this problem doesn't improve there will be extra pressure on the Base hospital which has already got massive challenges because of a lack of funding coming from the state government to improve their facilities.
"Doctors no longer want to do as many after hours anymore and we need to ensure we keep health professionals enticed to the regions.
"As a nurse I worked in remote places where doctors weren't available, but we're not in a remote part of Australia, Port Fairy is not remote, let's find ways to get doctors into the region."
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