New year, new adventures with Ochre
With 2020 thankfully behind us, there is a lot to look forward to in 2021 at Ochre. We chat to Ochre Health DMS Dr. John Hall about our new initiatives and his views on the rural health landscape into the new year.
Happy new year John and great to talk to you as always. What exciting innovations are on the horizon for Ochre Health in 2021?
After an extremely challenging 2020, we are now set for an exciting year at Ochre. Covid accelerated our digital transformation and we will continue to refine and embed new telehealth components. We are also looking at new software options for tracking and tracing health outcomes across the group and being able to deliver this information back to our doctors at an individual level so they can track their own performance.
Our new National Clinical Quality manager will also help us to analyse this data and look for opportunities where we can provide more support to really empower our doctors, nurses and coordinators. We will be working with the data to enhance not only the health of the communities we serve, but also to help drive our economic viability and increase activity at the practice level. It's a win-win and one of the most exciting projects currently underway.
Can you tell us a bit about the educational opportunities for Ochre doctors and nurses this year?
Yes, we've been working on some changes to our clinical governance structure and are formalising education delivery across the group including developing more education products. Part of this has already started with our Ochre Academy webinar series for doctors and nurses starting late last year.
We're also about to roll out regular registrar training, partnering with our Tasmanian colleagues around junior doctor and intern education. As many of you would know, we operate the intern program in Tasmania to serve the rural junior doctor training innovation fund. Ochre delivers community internships into rural and remote Tasmania for the THS for the State Health Department. We're already providing quality education to these interns on a regular basis and we'll be working with the intern program educators as well.
As a group, we will also be looking at how we can best support our clinical staff to get the education they feel they need as part of their career development and also provide some really strong ongoing professional development for our fully trained doctors and our senior doctors. We want to integrate education across the group where we have doctors and nurses learning alongside each other.
Following the launch of the Caloundra Ochre Health Hub, what other sites are set to open this year?
Ochre’s new state-of-the-art Health Hub in Caloundra opened late last year and was purpose-built for the area’s rapidly growing population. It’s a really exciting project with over 20 doctors supported by nurses and other staff and a wide range of allied health services. We’re focused on enhancing the delivery of primary care in communities like Caloundra and also partnering with local doctors throughout the process. We are looking forward to working with the Western NSW Local Health District to provide medical services in Bourke, Brewarrina, Collarenebri, Coonamble, Lightning Ridge and Walgett from 1 March. Ochre Health doctors will provide on-site cover for the hospital rosters as well as care for the local communities.
Ruth Stewart was appointed National Rural Health Commissioner mid-last year. Are you optimistic that she has what it takes to boost rural health outcomes?
Ruth Stewart is a very welcome appointment to the role of the National Rural Health Commissioner. She has a strong pedigree in medical education and rural health advocacy. She's been the past President of the College of Rural and Remote Medicine and has worked tirelessly in rural communities, delivering clinical services for a long time in rural Victoria and now on Thursday Island. She understands the context and what rural and remote communities need. She's bringing a strong remote focus to the role including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes which is so important.
We're at a time of tumultuous change within health and Covid has escalated that. But what we're looking at now, and one of the most important jobs Ruth Stewart has to do, is the rapid rollout of the National Rural Generalist Pathway. This pathway is key to train our doctors with a broader range of skills so they can work in rural communities and provide not only primary care but also hospital-based services for essential needs like maternity, obstetrics and surgery. These GPs are essential doctors who can work across a broad range of specialties to provide those services in rural and remote communities where they don't normally have access to that care. Delays in this process will have an impact on the pipeline as we all know there's a long incubation period for training a doctor and particularly a rural generalist with all of the additional skills and training that's required.
There's also a real opportunity to look at consolidation and realignment of functions within the rural healthcare industry. The Federal Government has made it pretty clear in the context of Covid that there might be additional funds to be spent on enhancing rural health. They have committed to looking at the existing spend and giving us an opportunity as an industry to look at what we've been doing in the past, and potentially realign some programs and activities so we're doing things more efficiently. There's real potential for some significant change here to enhance pay and conditions but also support programs for rural doctors. This can only be a good thing for rural communities and we need reform that will underpin the rural health workforce into the future.
What are your views on fast-tracking international medical graduates and placing them into rural areas?
This is a welcome short-term measure to help support clinicians who may be facing burnout as a result of Covid, but it doesn't align or fit with the long-term vision of what we're trying to achieve in rural health in Australia. A lot of international medical graduates work in rural Australia because it's the only place they can work. We would much prefer a situation where people are going to work in rural Australia because they want to work there, they want an interesting career and because they can see it's some of the best work you'll ever do as a doctor. Many of our Australian-trained graduates never get to see how good rural health can be, and we know that when we give them a good experience, many of them come back. Unfortunately, short-term programs like this are not the best for the community.
Another unfortunate outcome from opening up overseas trained doctor pathways, is that many of these doctors move back into the city when the moratoriums and restrictions are lifted. What this has already created in Australia is a significant maldistribution and in many of our Australian cities right now we've got too many GPs. We need doctors who are going to come and want to work in the country and stay in the country. We desperately need reforms to help support any doctor who wants to work and train in rural health. And these doctors need to be appropriately remunerated for the complexity of the work they're doing and to incentivise them to stay in those environments.
Thanks, John. As always it's a pleasure to talk with you.
If you would like to know more about working as a GP in rural Australia, please visit our Rural Generalist page. To learn more about working in an Ochre Health practice, please visit our Ochre Health page.