Virtual service to relieve rural generalist burnout

3 minute read

Southern NSW is extending its trial of a new virtual model offering 24/7 medical support from rural generalists.

The success of Western NSW’s Virtual Rural Generalist Service (VRGS) has led to an extension of the service by Southern NSW Local Health District. 

SNSWLHD CEO Margaret Bennett said the service helped relieve burnout among rural medical staff, thereby improving recruitment and retention of clinicians in regional areas.  

“VRGS will ensure our local doctors can maintain a healthy work-life balance while knowing their community is being well looked after,” Ms Bennett said.  

“The service also empowers our nursing staff to care for their patients locally, with the reassurance that VRGS doctors with comprehensive knowledge of our district’s services and procedures are always readily available.” 

In 2020, Western NSW LHD implemented a new model of care offering 24-hour virtual medical support, specialty level advice, critical care expertise and transport and coordination support. 

VRGS doctors provide specialist virtual and in-person support in hospitals and multipurpose services when local visiting medical officers are not available or fatigued. 

SNSWLHD trialed VRGS at five sites for six months from July 2023 – Bombala, Braidwood, Crookwell, Delegate and Yass – in partnership with WNSWLHD. 

Due to the trial’s success, the trial and the partnership with WNSWLHD has been extended, a SNSWLHD spokesperson told The Medical Republic

Patients seeking medical assistance at the five hospitals will be triaged by on-site nursing staff, who can arrange virtual clinical assessment and treatment with a VRGS doctor to finalise a care plan. 

WNSWLHD received last year’s Premier’s Award for Excellence in Digital Innovation for developing the model. 

Minister for Regional Health Ryan Park said the VRGS model ensured rural patients could see a doctor wherever they presented, rather than having to travel unnecessarily. 

“Virtual care serves as a bridge, connecting patients in remote regions with specialist expertise, enhancing and supporting the personalised care that can be delivered locally by rural and regional doctors across NSW,” Mr Park said. 

Labor spokesperson for Goulburn Bob Nanva MLC said he looked forward to seeing the overall health and wellbeing outcomes of the service for the community. 

“I’m excited about the benefits this innovative virtual model of care offers our regional health services, both for their patients and staff,” Mr Nanva said. 

“The connection our health care professionals have with the community is something I’m deeply proud of and I’m looking forward to seeing how the service will continue to strengthen those relationships.” 

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