Geographic barriers are one of the Southern District Health
Board's (SDHB) biggest health blocks and work is under way to
ensure rural patients have better access to health services
in a timely and efficient way, including the use of
telemedicine videolinks between hospitals.
SDHB's chief executive Carole Heatly said the board was
looking after the health needs of more than 300,000 people
and it needed to ensure it was using its $800,000,000 budget
in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.
To that end, the SDHB has started to develop a Southern
Strategic Health Services Plan to guide how the health sector
delivered health and disability services to the rural and
urban communities. She said a snapshot of the region's
population health profile was completed last year, and this
had included both group and one-on-one interviews.
In addition, about 70 representatives from the various health
groups and organisations, as well as six district mayors, met
in Balclutha two weeks ago to discuss issues raised in the
report, ''to get the lie of the land'' and ensure data
interpretation was accurate.
Southern Strategic Health Services Plan programme director Dr
Pim Allen, said the profile was the first step in developing
the plan. It identified the various challenges facing rural
patients, including geographic isolation, with many people
living more than two hours' drive from a hospital.
''From the health profile we had some really good indicators
of southern region issues,'' Dr Allen said.
In addition to geography, there was an increasing ageing
population, more people with chronic diseases and more with
multiple diseases, while isolated people sometimes had higher
instances of mental health issues.
''We want a really good way of trying to meet those needs in
a way that can be realistically achieved,'' Dr Allen said.
''How do we fit it all together in a way we don't duplicate
services and [do] make the most efficient use of resources?
''The mantra is: The right treatment in the right place by
the right person at the right time.''
Other options included moving services closer to where people
lived and using videolinks to connect specialists in one
facility to patients and other doctors in other areas in
virtual clinics and consultations.