Reducing the tyranny of distance for health professionals working in regional and remote Queensland

Pammie Ellem.1

1 Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service, P.O.Box 34, Bundaberg, 4670.

 

Key Words: Telehealth, regional and rural, professional support, isolation.

Introduction:

Specialist nurse positions, for example, Specialist Breast Care Nurses  (SBCNs) working across regional and remote Queensland struggle to receive adequate peer support and professional development because of the reduced numbers of employees in the isolated locations where they are employed. Specialist positions prefer to network with their speciality to gain knowledge, support and create strong referral patterns for the betterment of patient care. (Jones et al., 2010. & Black and Farmer, 2013.) In the absence of regular peer support, emotional burnout and high staff turnover is a likely outcome. (Mills, Birks and Hegney, 2010)

Objectives / Aims:

The objective of this presentation is to highlight the use of telehealth to connect health professionals together, thereby increasing peer support and improving patient care. This has been achieved by developing a model of support for SBCNs which is transferrable to other specialist health care modalities. The model incorporates the use of telehealth, phone and face to face contact allowing regular monthly meetings to be attended.  The meetings are designed to reduce the isolation that the nurses experience and also incorporate CPE points for professional development.

Description / methodology.

A study of SBCNs has been conducted using Participatory Action Research methodology to ensure the outcome was owned and driven by the nurses themselves and therefore relevant to their speciality practice. Group membership was defined by the participants thus creating a strong sense of trust within the group. Telehealth enabled the nurses who are a significant physical distance away to participate regularly regardless of their location. Nurses not employed by QLD Health were able to access QLD Health facilities with their colleagues.

Results / Outcomes.

The nurses participating in the study provided a substantial amount of evidence through semi structured interviews that demonstrate the value of the support group. Furthermore, it has enabled nurses who service an area that spans more than 409,000 square km and has a population of 326,000 people, the ability to get to know and trust each other. Once trust was established, referrals between the nurses increased which resulted in better patient outcomes and seamless care. Additionally by using Telehealth technology between peers, some participants who were initially resistant are now embracing Telehealth for their patient consultations when required. Many of the nurses in this study knew of each other but had not been able to interact on a regular basis. Now they are well known to each other.

Conclusion.

Telehealth has closed the gap of isolation for regional and remote nurses working in isolated conditions. This model of professional development and support utilising telehealth can now be adopted for other specialities reducing the isolation previously experienced which reduces the chance of emotional burnout. If the effects of isolation can be reduced, staff retention and patient services will improve for regional and rural Queensland. Telehealth is the way forward for Australian healthcare workers.