Relief for the frontline
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on Australia’s healthcare workers. While two-thirds of Australians have been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, a large number of healthcare workers have been putting themselves at risk on the frontline, working extended hours and taking on a greater workload, to ensure health and safety of all of us. Many have been experiencing exhaustion and burnout.
A recent survey of frontline healthcare staff found that during Australia’s first COVID-19 wave, workers wrestled with their obligation to work and the risk of infecting themselves and their families, with 42% less willing to work than they had been prior to the outbreak.
A service founded by a Sydney-based emergency physician, Dr Justin Bowra, can support hospital and healthcare services in offering a much-needed respite to their workers. Driven by his first-hand experience as a Senior Emergency Specialist in a busy emergency department, Dr Bowra wanted to create a service which would provide access to emergency specialist doctors to Australians, no matter where they lived. In 2016, he established My Emergency Doctor, a telemedicine service that connects Australians with a team of emergency specialist doctors via a phone or video call.
The service, which started with a small group of emergency specialists operating on a rotating call roster to support patients who needed on-demand emergency services, provides hospitals and healthcare services a complementary model of care in improving patient flow. It also supports onsite clinicians during surge in patient loads and enhances patient experience and health outcomes.
“It has been a busy, long year with COVID-19. Many clinicians will be wanting to take some time off in the lead-up to Christmas/the New Year and the school holiday break. We can work alongside with hospitals and healthcare services to manage the ups and downs of capacity in an emergency department (ED) and support these providers in offering relief to their staff after what has been a tumultuous year,” said Bill Maiden CEO, My Emergency Doctor.
The service currently employs over 90 senior emergency physicians, Fellows of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (FACEM), some of whom are still actively heading major emergency departments across Australia. These emergency specialists are deployed to support ambulance services, hospitals, primary health network, residential aged-care facilities, urgent care centres and multipurpose service centres.
“This can involve providing relief for doctor’s on duty, so they can actually get some sleep at night, through to secondary triage for ambulance services, to supporting onsite clinicians across the full spectrum of low acuity cases through to Category 1 to 2 triaged cases, which is where facilities are really making use of ‘telehealth and virtual care’ to the next level,” Maiden said.
The group claims to be one of the largest employers of Australian qualified emergency specialist doctors (FACEMs), and has undertaken over 75,000 consultations since its launch, with over 70% of the consultations managed in situ, meaning patients were treated without the need to necessarily require an ambulance call-out or present themselves to the ED, thereby freeing up much needed hospital resources to care for the sickest of patients.
Whilst the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth and virtual care services overall, it has also further created additional load on healthcare systems where it is timely for those managing patient demands and staffing capacity forecasts to investigate ways now in which they can easily scale up their workforce when needed to ensure patient care remain paramount, Maiden said.
“Technology has transformed emergency care, and we are also seeing some incredible innovative application of telehealth technology sit in areas that was probably once considered impossible,” he said.
“Telehealth has always traditionally been seen as an alternative for general practice (GP) consultations; however, the application of telehealth for emergency medicine has really gained ground. Not only has it gained ground, but we have been in the midst of seeing how successfully it can be deployed as a complementary model of care to support our hospitals and healthcare services in Australia,” Maiden concluded.
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