Case study: Helping to alleviate the hospital crisis – WA urgent care clinic pilot

Western Australia has completed a successful pilot of its GP Urgent Care Clinic Network, with MEDrefer contributing its digital referrals capability to the project providing patients with rapid access to non-life threatening emergency care.

As part of the state’s effort to lower the growing pressure on hospitals, the initiative has provided a vital alternative for patients who would otherwise have attended WA emergency departments.

Since its implementation as part of the pilot in May 2020, MEDrefer has been used across 150 general practices in the state, allowing urgent care clinics to report back about patients’ conditions to their usual GPs. 

“The urgent care clinics have been enthusiastic in their take-up of technology that transforms the way GPs communicate,” MEDrefer founder and CEO Brian Sullivan said.

“Not only does our digital platform enable easy access, it also allows GPs to receive reports about their patients, ensuring ongoing visibility of their care needs. It eliminates the need for paper, saves time for clinicians and admin staff, and lowers the risk of errors caused by transcribing patient details. No longer should GPs operate in entirely unconnected silos when information can easily be shared electronically regardless of the practice management software they use.”

Usually, MEDrefer enables referrals from GPs to specialists and hospitals. This was an adaptation of the system.

According to the state’s Department of Health, almost one-fifth of attendances to WA emergency departments in 2017-18 could have been treated by GPs.

Earlier this month, the ABC reported Western Australia recorded the highest total for ambulance ramping for the month of May in history. St John Ambulance figures showed paramedics spent a total of 5,252.6 hours ramped outside hospitals that were unable to take in additional patients.

Joondalup Health Campus left paramedics waiting the longest, followed by Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

It is an issue that isn’t limited to WA. 

A report by the Australian Medical Association released in May shows that hospitals around Australia are “in crisis”.

“In the last two years there have been increased reports of ambulance ramping outside hospitals, people needing to be driven to the ED as there are no available ambulances, and people dying waiting for an ambulance,” according to the AMA.

“The AMA’s Ambulance Ramping Report Card shows that states and territories are falling short of their performance targets, and longitudinal data demonstrates that the time it takes to transfer a patient from the ambulance to the care of the hospital emergency department has been overall increasing year on year. This is a clear indication that our hospitals are in crisis.”

In May, the Western Sydney Care Collective – a collaboration between Western Sydney Local Health District and WentWest, the Western Sydney Primary Health Network – announced $10.9 million in funding from the NSW Government would be used to establish up to 12 urgent care centres in Western Sydney in an effort to integrate primary and hospital care and lower pressure on the area’s emergency departments.  

It followed the death in April of a palliative care patient on an ambulance stretcher after waiting an hour for a bed in Concord Hospital’s emergency department.

This month, National Cabinet agreed to “identify practical improvements to the health system and specifically the connections between GPs and hospitals”. 

The Commonwealth also said it would work with states and territories “to determine the final locations for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics”. Before the election, Labor pledged $135 million to trial 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics based in general practices and community health centres, which are slated to open in July 2023.

An estimated 4 million presentations to emergency departments nationally every year could be dealt with outside the hospital setting.

The crisis is being exacerbated by people remaining in hospital beds who could be released, such as those waiting for home care or NDIS packages.

Growing pressures on the hospital system mean acute care clinics provide important services, including by providing treatment to older people in the community.

In WA, the GP Urgent Care Clinic Network pilot – delivered by the state’s Department of Health in partnership with the WA Primary Health Alliance – has enhanced the capacity of general practices to care for patients with urgent but non-life-threatening conditions, including:

  • Skin and soft tissue infections and symptoms, such as cuts and lacerations, mild burns and rashes, bites and insect stings
  • Musculoskeletal injuries such as minor fractures, sports injuries and minor neck and back pain
  • Other potentially urgent medical symptoms such as urinary tract infections and wound infections and abdominal pain.

Supported by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners WA Faculty and the Australian Medical Association (WA), the network was designed to ensure people could receive the right care in the right place – in the community.

MEDrefer provides a seamless nationwide directory of specialists and an eReferral delivery system that is safely stored in the cloud and integrated into practice management software. 

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