Wimmera Southern Mallee expands telehealth services

The expansion of telehealth and telepractice services in the Wimmera Southern Mallee helps more families to receive quality and timely care from child health specialists.

The Wimmera Southern Mallee (WSM) represents six local government areas in Western Victoria. At 20 percent of Victoria’s area but only 1 percent of the population, families in the WSM are unable to access services locally that are readily available in major cities.

In 2018, extensive consultation in WSM revealed lots of families were struggling to access timely and affordable specialist care for their children — an equity challenge already documented by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researchers.

By Five early years project

The ‘By Five’ WSM project was initiated by the local community and in 2018 the Centre came on board. With a family connection to the area, Dr Billy Garvey, then Senior Fellow at the Centre was keen to be involved.

‘By Five and the local community organised several seminars in the Wimmera and I got to know the community pretty well and learnt a huge amount,’ said Dr Garvey. ‘What really struck me was the ability of local people to hold families in the community. We know that local, high-quality primary care is the best way to ensure population health, so it makes sense to keep building on what exists.’

An innovative partnership helps children to access quality care

Families in the Wimmera Southern Mallee now have increased access to specialist paediatric support thanks to an innovative partnership brought to life by the BY Five project.

The BY FIVE Specialist Paediatric Support Partnership helps to improve children’s outcomes in the WSM by:
• linking maternal and child health (MCH) services with Dr Garvey
• building the capacity of service providers with case study seminars
• creating opportunities for families to access specialist care using telehealth technology.

‘The COVID-19 situation has helped to amplify the changes we were hoping to make through this project,’ said By Five Coordinator Rachel Robinson. ‘Some of the barriers we thought we might face in respect of engaging via telepractice were lifted as a result of necessity. Telepractice has become the norm rather than the exception and people have been able to experience the possibilities first hand’ she said.

As of May 2020, the project has helped divert several families from costly paediatric appointments in the city and the case-study seminars have been an efficient way for MCH to work together to influence practice.

Read more via feature story on page 4 of THE ADVERTISER

COVID-19 prompts telehealth uptake by GP’s

GPs are essential for regional health and have been engaged in co-consultations with Dr Garvey. Medicare funding for specialist co-consultations has been in place since 2011, but up until COVID-19, uptake has been really low.

By Five are now seeking funding to extend the change management process to GPs to ensure the pivot to telehealth can be harnessed to deliver health equity for regional communities.

For more information about the By Five project please contact Rachel Robinson.

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