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City Clinics Trial Rings In And Emails The Changes

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MARYANNE TWENTYMAN

Internet-based healthcare, self-service terminals and chatting to the doctor by phone are features being offered to patients of Hamilton's NorthCare medical clinics. The innovative approach to primary care, thought to be the first of its kind in Australasia, was launched by Health Minister Tony Ryall at NorthCare Pukete yesterday. "If demand for health services is to double over the next 10 years as some experts suggest, then we are not in a position to double Waikato Hospital or double the number of doctors and nurses," Mr Ryall said. "That is why we need to move services to a lower-cost platform that can deliver care closer to home ... and that platform is community primary care." The pilot programme, developed within existing health funds, will be closely monitored by all clinics under the Midlands Health Network. Chief executive John Macaskill-Smith said he was excited about the new approach that met the brief of `Better, Sooner more Convenient' healthcare. "It's about improving patient services by reducing waiting times, planning better use of clinic visits and offering contact through secure online messaging as well as phone and email to arrange appointment times or to discuss health concerns 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. NorthCare has 16,500 patients who will have access to their health records online. For busy businessman Dave Hale it means better management of his health care requirements. "Visiting the GP has always been a pain in the bum, having to rearrange your schedule to fit in with theirs, and they have always had very good gatekeepers making it really hard to get hold of them, but this has changed all that," he said. Mr Hale recently went online to check blood test results and can now take more time to learn about medications he is taking. "I picked up a new prescription the other day and was able to google it and find out what it was and what the side effects were," Mr Hale said. "You can have those initial discussions with the doctor but it can be difficult to retain that information," he said. NorthCare clinical director Dr John Morgan said he understood the need for change and was looking forward to the clinic's future. "I have been involved in this process for more than a year and as a clinician I have had to change the way of doing things that are deeply engrained in my head, but it's hugely exciting for all of us and for our patients," he said. Dr Morgan has already registered 60 patients to the online service including two patients aged 87 and 92. "Which goes to show how savvy our patients are and for those that aren't keen to adopt online practices there are phone triage options and the ability to book and come in," he said.

And while the NorthCare clinics are the first to roll out the new services, Dr Morgan said he had many colleagues who were keen to explore the approach. "There is a sense of frustration from other GPs of a general frenetic pace of the day and coming home and feeling absolutely knackered, we hope this model will eliminate a lot of that." Mr Macaskill-Smith is confident that it will ease congestion for GPs who have been trying to cope with the effects of an aging workforce and population. "Our health system is under immense pressure and we have a responsibility to sustainable healthcare and also taking the pressure off hospital emergency departments and unnecessary hospitalisations," he said. Mr Macaskill-Smith commended Mr Ryall for giving the primary care industry the chance to make significant change. "He actually enabled this to happen - and not through a Wellington agency or DHB, he came to the coalface and said `this is the problem we face and you guy's are the ones to fix it'," he said. - Waikato Times