ALMOST a quarter of a million dollars is being spent to roll out telehealth services across the region to keep COVID-19 out of aged care homes.
Western Victoria Primary Health Network is allocating $227,400 to 12 residential aged care facilities in western and south-west Victoria.
Cobden Health Residential Care, which has 60 beds and Heywood Rural Health, 45 beds, are among 12 residential aged care facilities in western and south-west Victoria to get the extended service.
The program will be delivered by My Emergency Dr, an Australian-owned and operated 24/7 tele-emergency service that connects patients, carers and clinicians with a specialist emergency physician for direct consultations.
The project aims to increase access to timely medical advice, reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and minimise unnecessary transfers to regional Urgent Care Centres or Emergency Departments for those living in residential aged care.
Access to the telehealth service is available until 31 May 2021, WVPHN chief executive officer Rowena Clift said.
"With the significant uptake in telehealth services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an opportunity to respond to the primary health care needs of our high-risk populations, including those living in aged care," she said.
"The after hours telehealth for residential aged care project allows us to not only offer greater opportunities to limit exposure to COVID-19 for aged care residents in the Great South Coast and their GPs, but to also alleviate some of the pressure on emergency departments in this very demanding time."
The 'after hours' period is defined as outside 8am to 6pm weekdays; outside 8am to 12pm on Saturdays, and; all day on Sundays and public holidays.
The service will also provide some relief for health professionals at these facilities by covering periods of GP or other medical support leave, as an alternative to engaging GPs or other medical support, relieving the on-call demand for GPs for the after hours period, and by providing specialist support to nurses working in the after hours period.
Cobdenhealth chief executive and director of nursing, Evan Hill, said it will provide an opportunity to improve the level of comprehensive care delivered in Cobden.
"For our residential aged care residents, it will mean that external transfers to hospitals after hours will be avoided, assessment and treatment will be expedited.
"This is particularly beneficial now given the threat that COVID-19 presents to aged care."
Heywood Rural Health chief executive Leigh Parker said the My Emergency Dr app "could not have come at a more opportune time".
"Residents will no longer need to leave the facility to seek medical opinion if they become unwell after hours.
"Heywood Rural Health is highly committed to providing high quality services to our residents. The My Emergency Doctor program embraces innovative models of care through technology, enabling access a doctor out of hours and weekends to ensure a robust sustainable service focused on best available care for residents."
"The Western Victoria Primary Health Network project will enable a systematic approach to healthcare using innovative sustainable models of care, providing reassurance to the local community, families, residents and staff now and into the future."
Heywood Nursing Home is also tipped to get a new kitchen and loungeroom after it was announced a recipient of the state government's fourth round of its $350 million Regional Health Infrastructure Fund.
Beyond the project end date of 31 May 2021, Deakin University will evaluate the project to determine if telehealth is a viable business model for the region into the future.
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