While Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, accessing care is often a challenge for rural and remote communities, especially after hours. For those working on the land or living out of town, a visit to their local GP is not always an easy option when they feel unwell.
The healthdirect service provides access 24 hours a day seven days a week to free health information and advice via a range of digital channels and a telephone helpline (1800 022 222) to help people make better informed health decisions.
Since it began in 2007, the healthdirect helpline has received over eight million calls. In each case a registered nurse assesses the caller’s symptoms and provides recommendations about how to best manage their health concern which, in many cases, might be done at home with the right advice.
In times of uncertainty, calling the healthdirect helpline can prevent unnecessary trips to GPs and emergency departments and help people to make more informed decisions about their health and wellbeing.
For rural and remote communities, healthdirect operates an extension in the after-hours service, providing access to medical advice and support from a GP over the phone when local GPs are likely to be closed, such as at night, on weekends and on public holidays.
More than just a phone service
As people increasingly go online to research their symptoms and find health information, healthdirect’s website healthdirect.gov.au has become the most popular Australian health information website in the country. Following a strict clinical governance framework, all health information on the website is produced using trusted and evidence-based sources.
healthdirect.gov.au also hosts a Symptom Checker tool which asks the same types of questions the registered nurses ask on the helpline. The Symptom Checker cannot diagnose the user’s health concern and is not a substitute for a healthcare professional’s assessment, but it can help move patients from a place of uncertainty by giving them information about what to do next with the symptoms they are experiencing. The website also lists over 10,000 pages of medicines information which have been designed specifically for Australian consumers.
The website information, symptom checker and medicines pages are all available from the healthdirect mobile app.
Help is just a phone call away
When Peter Murphy from Dorrigo, a small town located inland from the north coast of NSW, fell off the roof and had two fingers surgically removed, he noticed increased swelling in his arm when he returned home from hospital. However, he wasn’t sure how serious it was and was reluctant to make the effort to seek medical attention.
“I decided to call healthdirect who assessed my symptoms and told me to go into town and see a doctor right away,” says Peter.
“Their advice was right because the doctor had a look at my arm and told me I had a staph infection. I was told I needed to change my antibiotics, and the situation would have been a lot worse the next morning if I hadn’t taken any action.
“It was worth my while calling healthdirect. They gave me the right advice and provided a very valuable service. It’s really beneficial for people like me who live in more isolated areas and out of town,” he said.
healthdirect will be an exhibitor at the 15th National Rural Health Conference, Hobart 24-27 March 2019.