Telehealth

A rostered on-call doctor at our Port Augusta Base is available to take calls 24 hours a day over the telephone or HF radio to attend to cases ranging from medical emergencies to general health queries from people who live, work or travel in the most remote parts of the country.

The RFDS Doctor is also available to provide advice to rural doctors, remote area nurses, allied health staff and Aboriginal Health Workers should the need arise.

Where a medical query from an isolated community or cattle station requires treatment but not a visit by a doctor, the on-call RFDS Doctor can guide the caller to the correct treatment via the RFDS Medical Chest located in the community.

Graphic: Medical Chest

The Medical Chest, which is provided by the RFDS to isolated families or communities, contains a range of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical items, which enable emergency and non-emergency treatment to be given to people living and working remote areas where there is no access to a hospital or clinic.

People living at remote sites isolated from medical services can apply to the RFDS to become a custodian of a RFDS Medical Chest.

Use of the Medical Chest is under the guidance of a on-call RFDS Doctor who is available 24/7 for medical or emergency assistance on 1800 RFDS SA (1800 733 772). Emergency assistance numbers in your state.

In 2016/17 RFDS Central Operations conducted 5,436 telehealth consultations and administered 157 Medical Chests located in outback South Australia.

Who is eligible for a Medical Chest?

People living at remote locations who are isolated from medical services can apply to the RFDS to become a custodian of a medical chest. Considerations include:

Distance from medical care
Medical chests are approved to remote communities located greater than 80 kilometres from professional medical care, or communities closer than 80 kilometres which may not be able to access medical care (e.g. where roads become cut off during wet season).

Adequate telecommunications
Medical chest holders must be able to call the RFDS to obtain authorisation for use of restricted items.

Responsible person

At least one person must agree to act as the responsible  custodian of the medical chest.

Size of community
Whilst there is no minimum community size for issue of a medical chest, each chest is designed to service a population of up to 30 people.

Obligations

Only authorised, registered custodians are permitted to manage medical chests, subject to the following conditions:

  • Medical chests must be kept locked at all times when not in use
  • Contents must be checked regularly for expired or missing items
  • Highlighted prescription drugs must only be used under instruction of a RFDS Doctor
  • Keeping a record of the RFDS Doctor’s consultation numbers in a drug register is essential for re-ordering prescription medication
  • The appropriate registration number should be clearly marked on the chest
  • The responsible custodian/s should advise the RFDS when someone else takes over the care and control of the chest
  • If the chests cannot be kept in a cool location, some items will require refrigeration
  • Medical chests must not be moved to another location without the permission of RFDS

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the medical chest only for emergencies?
There is a misconception that people are only permitted to use the chest in an emergency. The majority of the items supplied are for non-emergency medical conditions. Medical chests overcome excessive travel to see a Doctor for conditions that can be managed remotely with medical advice. However, the chest does contain items to manage emergencies, providing enormous peace of mind.

Do I need special training to have or use a RFDS medical chest?
The chest is designed to be used without any specific training, though users are encouraged to complete a Senior First Aid certificate. The majority of chest contents are classified ‘prescription-only’, therefore their use is subject to direct consultation with a RFDS doctor. It is the doctor’s responsibility to correctly diagnose and prescribe. It is your responsibility to follow their instructions.

Can I use the medical chest for my animals?

Medical chests are for human use only. Medical advice The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for pets or livestock should be discussed with a vet.

Can I call my local GP, or a doctor who is a friend, to prescribe items from the chest?
No. As the custodian of pharmaceutical items in a RFDS medical chest, you must contact the RFDS for approval to use them. RFDS doctors are familiar with the items in the medical chests. The service is free and available 24 hours a day. 

How often should I check my medical chest?
We strongly recommend checking monthly for expired and used/prescribed items. This will give you peace of mind in the event that someone requires medical help.

What happens if drugs are stolen?

Extreme care is taken to prevent illicit access to medical chests. In the event of theft, the police must be notified immediately and a report number obtained. The RFDS must then be notified in writing, quoting police report number. The RFDS is obliged to report any drug thefts to the appropriate authorities. It will be at the RFDS Medical Director’s discretion as to whether the medical chest is forfeited.

Can we buy a chest?
Medical chests are provided to those people in remote areas who meet RFDS eligibility criteria under a subsidy program funded by the Australian Government. Commercial entities (such as remote mine sites) may also use the medical chest on a full cost-recovery basis.

Are you the custodian of a RFDS Medical Chest?