Australian-first virtual emergency centre to help save lives in the outback

Graphic: Australian-first virtual emergency centre to help save lives in the outback

Australian-first virtual emergency centre to help save lives in the outback

Date published

15 Mar 2024

The RFDS is opening a state-of-the-art health hub in the South Australian outback tourism town of William Creek that provides 24/7 emergency medical care with no health professionals physically in the room.

In the event of a medical emergency, an intercom on the side of the building enables community members and tourists passing along the Oodnadatta Track to contact the RFDS and access the virtual emergency centre at all times of day and night.

The RFDS virtual emergency centre houses innovative digital health technology, including a telehealth unit with video conferencing and a comprehensive range of interchangeable diagnostic medical devices, connecting patients and their companions with an immediate RFDS Doctor consultation and essential first responder advice.

“Kicking into action after a single emergency telephone call, the virtual emergency centre enables telehealth consultation, diagnosis and treatment with no health professionals physically in the room, 24/7,” RFDS SA/NT Chair Peter de Cure AM said at the official opening today.

“In the event of an emergency, first responders will be able to use telehealth technology to instantly contact on-call RFDS doctors. With an on-site AED and remote RFDS Medical Chest, the on-call doctor can advise the local medical chest custodian of immediate life-saving medications and care, while patients wait in a safe and secure treatment room for an RFDS aeromedical crew to arrive,” Mr de Cure said.

“The real innovation here is creating a system that facilitates the Chain of Survival and links patients who are hundreds of kilometres from help with immediate hospital-grade medical treatment.”

Photo: The RFDS's Dr Mardi Steere guides a training scenario at the virtual emergency centre.
William Creek telehealth
Photo: Patients can now wait in a safe and secure treatment room while on a call with a Doctor before an RFDS aeromedical crew arrives.

The centre’s portable telehealth unit includes a fingertip oxygen monitor, blood pressure monitor, and electrocardiography leads to help the RFDS with diagnosis.

It also has a comprehensive range of interchangeable medical devices that can transmit high quality images for the on-call RFDS doctor, such as wound assessments, dermatology imaging, and throat and dental examinations – future attachments may also include an ultrasound probe.

In addition to emergency care, the new RFDS William Creek Community Health Service provides a multi-functional patient care space for the RFDS to conduct its fortnightly fly-in community health clinics, while increasing capability to introduce oral health and other allied health services to the town.

“Historically, RFDS teams have consulted with patients at the William Creek Hotel or in the attached tourist accommodation where there are no fixed medical provisions,” Mr de Cure said.

“We now have a fit-for-purpose space where our doctors, nurses and even our oral health team, physiotherapist and other allied health clinicians can set up full-scale clinics.

“The William Creek Community Health Service will revolutionise health care for residents of William Creek, neighbouring stations and the tens of thousands of tourists who make their way along the remote Oodnadatta Track.”

The new RFDS William Creek Community Health Service uses a cost-effective modular and prefabricated construction to create a purpose-designed health clinic, featuring:

  • A virtual emergency centre with telehealth connectivity, diagnostic technology and treatment beds, available to community members and tourists in medical emergencies;
  • two multi-functional patient care spaces for the RFDS’s regular fly-in GP, mental health and allied health consultations including oral health;
  • a community space including a waiting area and accessible toilet;
  • direct access to William Creek Airstrip for RFDS aeromedical retrieval crews; and
  • accreditation that meets the National Safety & Quality Health Standards.
    WIlliam Creek drone
    Photo: The facility was officially opened by Federal Health & Aged Care Minister Mark Butler alongside Arabana Traditional Owners, community members and RFDS stakeholders at an event in William Creek on Friday 15 March.

    As the closest town to Lake Eyre North and the gateway to the Simpson Desert, William Creek is a hub for nearby station communities and welcomes more than 26,000 tourists a year travelling the Oodnadatta Track.

    In response to a call for support from the local community, SA’s Outback Communities Authority (OCA), through the Federal Government’s Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program, kickstarted the project with a $1 million funding injection matched by RFDS fundraising to offset the total cost.

    Extending the OCA/RFDS partnership, the RFDS William Creek Community Health Service will also benefit from high-speed internet capability through Starlink and Fortinet technology, which is being rolled out by the OCA across towns in outback SA as part of its Town Internet Ignition project.

    “The OCA’s investment in this fantastic facility and our exciting new Town Internet Ignition project, also being delivered in partnership with the RFDS, will enable the RFDS to deliver an improved patient experience,” OCA Chair Jan Ferguson OAM said.

    “The OCA is committed to supporting remote residents and the essential services needed to live and work in the bush. Together with the RFDS, we continue to work to meet the needs of remote communities such as William Creek.”

    William Creek Community Health Service
    Photo: Federal Minister for Health & Aged Care Mark Butler.

    Federal Health & Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said the importance of having access to healthcare facilities in the region could not be overstated.

    “Your postcode shouldn’t determine whether you have access to health care, which is why I’m proud that the Albanese Government is investing $1 million towards this vital RFDS project in remote South Australia,” he said.

    “These enhanced services, to be delivered by the RFDS, will provide an added level of comfort to the William Creek community, and will also play a key role in providing confidence to thousands of tourists that visit the local area each year.

    “Our $3.25 billion Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program is doing so much more than delivering lasting infrastructure – it’s creating new employment opportunities, growing local economies, and ensuring our regional and remote communities thrive.”

    SA Minister for Local Government and Member for Stuart, Geoff Brock, said the clinic would fill a gap in services in the remote and increasingly busy location.

    “With the nearest towns some 200 kilometres away in either direction along the track, having this dedicated facility will provide comfort to locals and surrounding pastoralists.

    “The new clinic also offers a round-the-clock lifeline in an area surrounded by dirt roads, which are increasingly used by visitors unfamiliar with the region.”

    The RFDS William Creek Community Health Service is operational from April 2024.

    William Creek Community Health Service
    Photo: Immediate medical help is now available 24/7 to locals and travellers of the Oodnadatta Track, more than 800km north of Adelaide.