Saturday, December 2, 2023

Virtual surgery helps rural users

Avatar photo
Rural patients are likely to be big winners with the launch of a new health app released just as the covid-19 lockdown started to bite. As visits to local doctors became almost impossible, the app has freed up medical resources and made visiting a doctor a virtual reality. Richard Rennie spoke to one of its founders, Dr Sasha Kljakovic.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

With visits to doctors’ clinics a fraught affair during lockdown and an increasing number of general practice clinics feeling the financial strain the Well Revolution app is providing a means for both patients and doctors to preserve their health and their businesses.  

After four years in the making one of the creators, west Auckland doctor Sasha Kljakovic said the company was prompted to hit the market as covid lockdowns were signalled, knowing its time had come.

“We released it to our first partner GPs the week before the lockdown. 

“We felt we had an obligation to support the country’s GPs getting it out there and it’s starting to build in both patient and GP numbers.”

The freely downloadable app has been designed to enable doctors to provide on-line consultations, prescribe medicines, follow up consults and send alerts to patients for the cost of only a credit card commission. 

But the ability for a patient in need to also source a doctor urgently when their usual GP is unavailable gives the app unique 24/7 health care security rural users will appreciate, Kljakovic says.

“We have partnered up with MedRecruit, Australasia’s biggest medical recruitment company to provide additional doctors 24/7. 

“So, if someone has something urgent and can’t get their usual doctor there are other trained GPs in the wings to provide a consult.” 

That feature also provides valuable locum work for young doctors seeking extra income.

A key feature of the app is what it is not focused on. While many think video links are critical for health care consults the app’s creators have steered clear of it for first point of contact. 

“Typically, the consult will simply be through simply messaging their doctor through the app. Consults can happen quickly through instant text and voice, even photos. 

“If necessary, they can then go to video but it is not often required,” she says. 

With rural broadband still patchy in areas and upload speeds slow she believes this holds particular appeal for rural users.

Waikato District Health board chief executive Nigel Murray fell into disrepute two years ago while trying to launch the remote health project SmartHealth to connect doctors and rural communities. 

SmartHealthi, based on an American company’s concept, failed to gain users and fell foul of Waikato doctors. The project met with cost blowouts of $25 million and resulted in Murray being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

But Kljakovic said the Well Revolution system has doctors and patients at its centre and its founders have long recognised any great financial return from the project will still be some way off.

“Anything in healthcare that involves innovation also requires a lot of time and tenacity to get it through,” she said.

Rural user benefits also include the ability to have prescribed medications delivered for a cost of $5, anywhere around NZ. 

Kljakovic said the company is not seeking to replace patients’ existing GPs with remote, unknown practitioners and wants the app to enhance existing practice-patient relationships by making consults more flexible.

So far there is a minority of rural doctors on the app but a healthy number of urban fringe practices have signed on. Kljakovic said the app aims to be agnostic to whatever patient management system doctors are using.

“Covid has been tough on doctors’ practices. I know of 10 practices in Auckland that have shut down and the Government has just announced it will be stopping the $11 million payment set aside to help GP practices.

“Covid has made many realise they need to be digital but they are not set up for it nor do they have the resources because so much is committed to conventional premises and staff.”

Being able to run a virtual clinic without the commitments of wages, leases and building compliance might open up options for younger doctors wanting to establish a practice and help in rural areas where demands are high on a small number of medical professionals.

“And we know farmers can be terrible for delaying visits to the doctor – this makes it a simple affair, prompting them to act earlier before things get worse.”

Kljakovic, who also runs Facebook health shows, is confident the app can be used in future for similar information seminars to different sector groups.

People are also reading