Victorian GPs get a hand with country kids' health

  • Doctors with child
  • Doctor and patient
  • Doctors in Secondary Schools at work in Benalla – (l-r) Richard McClelland former Murray PHN Executive Director, Benalla Church Street surgery nurse Shellie Davis, Benalla P-12 College Principal Barbara O’Brien, Murray PHN Doctors in Secondary Schools program coordinator Penny Bolton
    Doctors in Secondary Schools at work in Benalla – (l-r) Richard McClelland former Murray PHN Executive Director, Benalla Church Street surgery nurse Shellie Davis, Benalla P-12 College Principal Barbara O’Brien, Murray PHN Doctors in Secondary Schools program coordinator Penny Bolton

Photos: Victorian Primary Health Network Alliance

Two Victorian initiatives hope to build the capacity of rural GPs to take on a greater role with the health care of kids and teenagers.

GPs have been placed in 100 rural high schools to improve access to care, and increase privacy for students to see a doctor.

Victoria has also rolled out a state wide online program to build the paediatric capacity of GPs.

Country kids often face more severe health and social challenges than their urban peers. Rural teenagers are more likely to smoke, drink and use illicit drugs, as well as being less likely to finish school than their metropolitan counterparts.  

They are more likely to enter school with developmental issues, and rates of obesity are higher. But while health needs are greater, there is often limited access to health services.

Local general practitioners (GPs) end up filling these gaps without much support.

Now they have two additional options for the care of Victorian children and teenagers.

Since January, rural GPs can access 13 HealthPathways sites covering respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions. 

HealthPathways is a free, web-based tool offering evidence-based and local information on the assessment and management of common clinical conditions.  It includes referral guidance, clinical and patient resources.

It was developed by the alliance of VictorianPrimary Health Networks (PHNs) and the Victorian Government’s Safer Care Victoria’s Paediatric Clinical Network.   The content of each HealthPathways condition is based on best practice clinical guidelines from the Royal Children’s Hospital.

A further 15 HealthPathways sites will be rolled out by October 2018 to cover the unwell child, neurology, ear, nose and throat (ENT), and allergy conditions.

A key aim is to maximise those high volume, low complexity conditions that can be effectively managed in primary care rather than a hospital.

Another Victorian initiative to improve the health of rural teenagers is the Doctors in Secondary Schools program.

100 rural high schools are hosting GPs up to one day a week.

The program aims to overcome two key issues in country Australia – better access to health care, and offering a more private setting for consultations.

In rural towns a trip to the doctor can be a public event, so a GP at school can offer teenagers significantly more privacy.

Run by the Victorian government, Doctors in Secondary Schools has a phased rollout. The first 20 schools commenced participation in the first half of 2017, a further 40 from Term 3, 2017, and the final 40 from Term 1, 2018.  

Participating GPs are supported to build a local youth care network.

They are provided with training to improve their paediatric skills, including clinical workshops and webinars, through the University of Melbourne.

Three advice lines for GPs are also available, covering mental health, sexual health and general medical concerns.

Many students are presenting with mental health concerns, offering an improved chance of early intervention and treatment.

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