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A new after-hours clinical telehealth service will help isolated communities have better access to medical care.

Photo/ Supplied/ RNZ


New telehealth service aims to fill gaps created by workforce shortages

Isolated communities will soon have more access to primary care services, through a new after-hours clinical telehealth service.

As New Zealand’s health system struggles with workforce shortages, a new after-hours telehealth service is aiming to reduce some of the stress being felt - particularly for the roughly 900,000 New Zealanders living in rural communities.

The 0800 service will provide after-hours care (5pm – 8am) on weekdays, and 24 hours a day on weekends and public holidays.

The service, which is staffed by kaiāwhina, nurses, GPs and emergency medicine specialists, will provide access for rural people whether they are enrolled or unenrolled with a primary care practice.

Rural general practice clinics will also be able to refer whānau to the service when they are at capacity to ensure rural patients have an alternative option to access healthcare when they need it.

Following a contestable funding process, Ka Ora Telecare has been awarded the contract to deliver the rural clinical telehealth service over the next three years.

Ka Ora Telecare clinical director Dr Emma Calvert spoke with Levi Matautia-Morgan on 531pi's Pacific Mornings about the service and says one benefit is that it can fill gaps created by the recent staffing shortages.

“One of the key components of the service is redistributing our workforce, so it means a clinician in a community that is well-resourced can help a community that is not as well resourced.”

She says the service will enable clinicians to provide their expertise while working from home.

“Our clinical team members are right across the motu, in both urban and rural locations so it means we can take where there’s some extra fat in the system and put it where it's needed."

The new service has been co-commissioned by Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora to reduce barriers for rural communities to access primary care, particularly for priority populations, and Te Whatu Ora National Director Commissioning Abbe Anderson says the service comes in response to strong advocacy from the rural health sector.

“The service will enhance the care already provided by our rural health teams, working with our existing health providers to offer additional capacity and continuity of care.

“Rural communities are a priority group identified in Te Pae Tata (Interim New Zealand Health Plan) and we remain dedicated to improving their access to high-quality, timely healthcare.”

Although the service is subsidised by Te Whatu Ora, a patient co-payment will be charged for consultations with a doctor. Under 14-year-olds will remain free, and those on Community Services Card or who are 65 years and over will pay $19.50.

The rural clinical telehealth service is a new addition to New Zealand’s telehealth options and Healthline – 0800 611 116 continues to operate as normal.

Watch the full interview with Dr Emma Calvert below:

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