A remote South Australian town which has a population of just 12 people, but more than 50,000 visitors each year, will soon have a “self-service” telehealth clinic.
Innamincka, more than 800 kilometres north-east of Adelaide and on the Queensland border, will be home to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) clinic.
It will be serviced by doctors and nurses who will fly in for the day from Broken Hill, in western New South Wales.
On days where the clinic is unstaffed, patients will have access to a telehealth service where they can be seen remotely by a doctor.
RFDS health service development manager Jenny Beach said it would allow a patient to get a full set of observations done, even when there was no nurse in town.
“The doctor will be able to have a look … basically be able to do a much better assessment,” she said.
“The doctor will be able to say ‘open drawer No.2 and take out the little piece of black plastic, and pop that in your ear’ and they can operate that from where they are.
“The decision then about whether someone is OK, whether we can supply them with some medication from the medical chest, or whether they need the plane to pick them up, will be made.”
Innamincka sits alongside the Cooper Creek, which carries rainwater from Queensland’s Channel Country into Lake Eyre.
In the past, the town has occasionally become cut off and isolated by floodwaters, leaving locals stranded.
Ms Beach said the self-service healthcare model was being rolled out in a series of regional locations it could transform health delivery in remote areas.
The South Australian government has funded about half of the $800,000 clinic through the state’s Regional Growth Fund.
Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone said the service was long overdue.
“We feel that having a permanent facility up at Innamincka is what outback communities expect,” Mr Whetstone said.
“[Innamincka] also has over 50,000 tourists passing through it annually.”
Clinic will also offer mental health services
As well as space for nurses, general practice doctors and dental specialists, the new clinic is also set to have space dedicated for mental health services.
Ms Beach said the RFDS was trying to help people in regional areas manage “whole of life” mental health issues that many people were not comfortable discussing.
“What they’re doing now is they go out to that community with a team of people, and they’re there for two or three days,” she said.
“So they’re working with people and people gradually begin to engage, because mental health is quite a difficult thing.”
Ms Beach said the demand on mental health services was growing dramatically.
“People dealing with droughts across this country at the moment has just exacerbated the issues,” she said.
“It’s their livelihood that’s going. They’re watching their stock die … it’s just incessant [and] just doesn’t stop.”