Specialist service takes the travel out of remote healthcare


Patients in regional and rural Queensland now have unprecedented access to specialist expertise thanks to the expansion of a pioneering service based at Mater’s South Brisbane health campus.

The eConsultant service connects GPs with Mater medical specialists, enabling them to seek expert clinical advice for their patients without them needing to travel to face-to-face consultations in Brisbane or regional centres.

eConsultant clinical lead Emeritus Professor David McIntyre said Mater was expanding the number of specialties available through the program in response to growing community need.

“It’s about providing Queenslanders with access to quality specialist advice regardless of where they live,” Professor McIntyre said.

“As demand for timely, better-coordinated complex care continues to rise, the eConsultant program provides an innovative and efficient way to enhance health outcomes for Queenslanders, particularly those in rural and remote areas.”

While the program initially focused on access to Mater’s experts in dermatology, endocrinology, and cardiology, it has now expanded to include those specialising in respiratory and sleep medicine, renal medicine, neurology, infectious diseases and obstetric medicine.

Mater’s Director of Obstetric Medicine Dr Jo Laurie says she was excited to be part of the program.

“Pregnancy-specific health concerns are quite a narrow specialty and we already practise a fair amount of telehealth and digital health, so we know we can provide that very high-level care without having to see the patient in person,” Dr Laurie said.

“From a fairness and health quality point of view this is really important to ensuring people who live in regional and rural Queensland receive speciality care.”

The eConsultant pilot has so far benefited more than 350 patients in regional communities including Roma, Mount Isa and Charleville.

The average time for an eConsultant to respond to a GP request for advice is two days, with patients avoiding face-to-face visits in 87 per cent of cases.

GPs complete a request for advice for the eConsultant specialist, who then reviews the request and responds, providing the GP with the information they need to make decisions on treatment, management, monitoring or diagnosis.

Charleville GP Dr Kasandra Kuhler said the service has been a game-changer for her patients.

“My rural patients are an incredibly stoic group of people who don’t like to leave the area, but they also have quite complex medical issues,” said Dr Kuhler.

“Having that direct link to the specialist has really changed how quickly I can provide care to my rural patients.”

Roma-based GP Dr Shireen Kumar has also found similar benefits. 

“In rural Queensland, our access to specialist consultants is limited and our patients can sometimes struggle with attending appointments in urban areas, especially the more geriatric populations,” Dr Kumar said.

Mater continues to work closely with the Queensland Government on ensuring the future of the service, which is a partnership between Queensland Health, Mater, the University of Queensland, the Western Queensland PHN, the North Queensland PHN, the Brisbane South PHN, Ontario eConsult/Champlain Base, the Royal Australian College of General Practice and the Australian Digital Health Agency.

The list of eConsultant specialties now available includes cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, infectious diseases, neurology, obstetrics, respiratory/sleep and renal medicine.

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