Digital health consultations soared in April as the RFDS found innovative new ways to connect with isolated communities during COVID-19 – with some unexpected results.
RFDS Chronic Disease Coordinator Jessica Robinson said Type 2 diabetes patients in outback SA experienced a 7.5 per cent improvement in their blood glucose levels during COVID-19 lockdown as our dedicated nurses and doctors rapidly adapted to supporting communities remotely.
“The team had so little time to adapt – our standard policies and procedures were literally changing every day in response to the crisis,” Ms Robinson said.
As face-to-face meetings were shut down, the RFDS Primary Health Care team based in Port Augusta immediately responded to the resulting uncertainty.
Patients were sent reminder text messages and the team used telephone and video calls to prompt patients to check their blood glucose levels, share photographs of food diaries or chat about their health care.
“A lot of our clients are in remote communities and benefit from face-to-face consultations. We spent some time providing reassurance for those clients, as we wanted to make sure they knew we were still here for them and hadn’t abandoned them,” Ms Robinson said.
“It most definitely helped having the strong relationships we’ve already built in rural and remote communities. It meant we could give people a call and they were more comfortable talking with us about their health.”
Hundreds of Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes clients received SMS alerts along with the telephone and videoconferencing calls in between fly-in clinics, while at-home tests were tracked by daily RFDS phone or SMS check-ins.
Ms Robinson said the impressive results in Type 2 diabetic patients were linked to ongoing work from the RFDS Primary Health Care team.
People living in rural and remote Australia are significantly more likely to develop diabetes than their city counterparts and the RFDS Port Augusta Primary Health Care Service is working hard to close this gap through its specialist diabetes care and education.
“It’s about building trust in those relationships and encouragement, being there for them, being supportive and being available when they need it,” Ms Robinson said.
“I think the biggest thing was just letting people know we are here for them.”
The RFDS doubled its number of digital health consultations in the first half of 2020 as more non-traditional channels were used to connect with isolated SA and NT communities.
Continuing to connect with remote communities
The move to using more digital consultations marks yet another chapter in the Flying Doctor’s rich history of connecting with remote communities.
In the 1920s, Alfred Traeger (pictured right) pioneered the first pedal radio that allowed the Flying Doctor to communicate with remote patients.
RFDS nurse Lucy Garlick invented the body chart during the 1950s so patients could reliably report symptoms over the telegraph line.