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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.