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South Australian Virtual Emergency Service program launched in 16 regional hospitals

The South Australian Virtual Emergency Service (SAVES) program is now fully operational in 16 regional hospitals, providing patients in country areas with access to extra medical support in emergency situations. Today’s official SAVES launch follows a trial period which commenced in February.

SAVES links doctors with patients and their local health workers in country emergency departments via the existing Telehealth Network, enabling face-to-face consults using video conferencing equipment.

Country Health SA has 61 regional and remote hospitals spread across the State. The Telehealth network is already used widely for country patients needing psychiatry and cardiology consults, while virtual clinical care services are provided to country patients with chronic disease. In 2016, the SA Digital Telehealth Network was used for over 7,000 clinical consumer encounters and over 24,000 video conferences were held, including clinical, operational, training and administrative communication.

SAVES will be used at the discretion of on-call GPs in 16 emergency departments, including Cleve, Cowell, Cummins, Elliston, Kimba, Streaky Bay, Wudinna, Karoonda, Lameroo, Meningie, Pinnaroo, Tailem Bend, Strathalbyn, Laura, Hawker and Quorn.

Country Health SA Chief Executive Officer, Maree Geraghty, commented,SAVES sites have been selected where it is difficult to provide a 24/7 medical service, and it will be entirely the decision of the on-call rural GP whether to switch over to SAVES on any given night.”

GPs (General Practitioners) based at the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency site in Adelaide provide remote medical assistance to triage category three, four and five patients who present to their local emergency department when the resident GP is unavailable.

High quality digital cameras situated in the local hospital accident and emergency room allow doctors in Adelaide to examine patients via video link and support the local nursing staff to provide appropriate care.

The deployment of SAVES means that local GPS will have the option of being called out to treat high acuity patients only, reducing fatigue by allowing them to rest at night, while low acuity patients can be treated by GPs over the SAVES network.

“Country GPs should be reassured that SAVES is not a replacement service; SAVES is designed to support rural doctors’ existing practices, provide greater flexibility for their operating hours and improve their work-life balance by allowing them to take well-deserved time off,” Ms. Geraghty said.  

Health Minister, Peter Malinauskas, said, “It’s great to be able to work in partnership with the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency to deliver remote medical assistance, which is all about supporting doctors in our smaller country hospitals between the hours of 11pm and 7am.”

“Patients who present to country hospitals in the middle of the night can be reassured patient care will not be compromised and they will continue to receive high quality emergency medical support. This additional support enables local GPs and nursing staff to provide safe care as close to home as possible for people living in rural and remote communities,” he added.  

Rural Doctors Workforce Agency, Chief Executive Officer, Lyn Poole, said, “We believe SAVES supports country communities in their efforts to retain high quality, experienced doctors by allowing them to have a night off knowing our GPs can provide support to their team.”

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