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Northern Health expands Medical Community Virtual Consult service statewide

15 May 2023
By Kate McDonald
Image: iStock

Melbourne’s Northern Health has expanded its innovative Medical Community Virtual Consult (MCVC) service to GPs statewide after a successful launch last year, which has seen a reduction in the need for in-person referrals to specialists.

The service, closely aligned with Northern Health’s Victorian Virtual Emergency Department (VVED) initiative, is also available to GPs seeing patients in residential aged care facilities, providing case conferences by video with staff geriatricians, and to nurse practitioners in areas short of GPs.

MCVC lets GPs pre-book 20-minute appointments with Northern Health specialists using a repurposed appointment booking solution with calls conducted through HealthDirect’s video call system. The service currently offers consultations for complex cases by a range of specialties, the most popular of which are paediatrics, dermatology and endocrinology.

The idea was first put forward by Northern Health nephrologist and head of medical obstetrics David Langsford, who trialled the service during the COVID-19 pandemic. VVED has since provided support and the number of specialities has expanded, including cardiology, neurology, nephrology, gastroenterology, respiratory medicine, rheumatology, haematology and sexual health.

Northern Health’s transformation unit project manager Cassie Bramston, who is also a research officer for VVED, said uptake by GPs had been “quite phenomenal” and the increased interest has allowed it to schedule more specialties.

The service hopes to shortly be credentialed to offer CPD points for case conferences. It is holding a specialist speed consulting session on June 3 for GPs to network and discuss complex cases with hospital-based specialists.

Ms Bramston said the service was looking at ways to measure the use and uptake of the service, including any reductions in referrals.

“We are looking into ways to measure that at the moment,” she said.

“We are doing an evaluation with the GPs to provide some feedback, because the whole model has been co-designed with GP in the area, so we love that feedback. And even some of our PHNs have provided some really valuable feedback in terms of our platform and the scheduling.

“We do ask has this avoided a specialist referral and what we’ve found in our data to date, preliminary data, is that in over 50 per cent of cases it has.”

In addition to allowing GPs to book a remote consultation with a geriatrician while visiting a patient in care facilities, the wider VVED service is also providing consultations to residential aged care. Nurses and carers can access VVED after hours when GPs are not available, and the service is also available to Ambulance Victoria paramedics on site.

Northern Health’s virtual services project lead Richard Nasra said the Virtual ED has an arm dedicated to supporting residential aged care facilities, particularly those that only have nursing support.

“Anyone from a nursing facility can directly access the Virtual ED for any of their residents and quite often what we find is that it’s usually undertaken together with an ambulance that has attended on site,” Mr Nasra said.

“And the beauty of both of those models, whether it whether it’s direct referral from the aged care facility or through Ambulance Victoria, there’s always a clinician on the other end, that can provide some of the assessments, some of the vitals, and give our Virtual ED team a little bit more information and be able to provide the best care.

“The ambos have devices that they carry around with them and where they deem that a patient fits eligibility criteria for a video telehealth consult, and they’re not concerned about patient needing critical care, they will then initiate a Virtual ED consult.

“And then likewise with the residential aged care facilities. Most of those now through some PHN funding have been able to secure some devices to be able to take video telehealth consultation so through that they can access the service directly.”

GPs interested in the MCVC networking event can book here.

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