In a groundbreaking move, a new after-hours telehealth service has emerged to transform healthcare accessibility for nearly 900,000 New Zealanders living in rural areas across the country.
Boasting a user-friendly approach, this service aims to bridge the gap in primary health care, ensuring that even the most remote communities have access to medical support.
The service, launched by Ka Ora Telecare and co-commissioned by Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora, is making waves by blending the expertise of three leading organisations - Reach Aotearoa, Practice Plus, and Emergency Consult. Jess White, the General Manager of Ka Ora Telecare, expressed her enthusiasm about the new project.
"This is a really exciting new service, and our organization is proud of the new platform we have stood up to help our rural communities and support rural GPs with another option to provide care for their patients," she said.
So, how does it work? Rural communities can access this service in two ways: by directly calling 0800 2 KA ORA (0800 252 672) or by obtaining a referral from their rural healthcare provider. The triage process begins with skilled nurses and kaiāwhina, ensuring that individuals are swiftly directed to a doctor if necessary.
"The service is an extension of the care provided by your usual healthcare provider, but it is also available to those who are unenrolled and living in a rural area," White highlighted.
Although Te Whatu Ora subsidises the service, there is a patient co-payment for doctor consultations. However, children under 14 will receive free care, while those holding a Community Services Card or aged 65 and above will only pay $19.50.
Dr Sarah Clarke, National Clinical Director at Te Whatu Ora, emphasised the significance of this service for the most isolated communities.
"For those in our most isolated communities, who may only have a landline and no access to the internet, this service is a real step forward in accessing after-hours care when it is not an emergency."
This innovative telehealth initiative aims to respond not only to the immediate healthcare needs of rural residents but also to alleviate pressure on healthcare providers facing workforce shortages.
Selah Hart, Deputy Chief Executive of Public and Population Health at Te Aka Whai Ora, emphasised the impact on families, especially those with young children, who previously had to travel extensive distances for after-hours medical care.
"It will be such a relief to them to have care available quickly and easily, so they can stay well in their community," Hart said.
Operating from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am on weekdays and 24/7 on weekends and public holidays, the service is staffed by a dedicated team comprising kaiāwhina, nurses, GPs, and emergency medicine specialists. This venture aligns with the priorities outlined in Te Pae Tata (Interim New Zealand Health Plan), focusing on improving healthcare access for rural communities.
This new addition to New Zealand's telehealth landscape is set to redefine healthcare accessibility, with Healthline (0800 611 116) continuing its normal operations.
Ka Ora Telecare has secured the contract to deliver this service for the next three years, marking a promising era for enhanced healthcare services in rural New Zealand.
More information can be found at https://kaora.co.nz/app/