After hours and digital health
In July 2023, Health Voices were asked to identify areas of concern and opportunities for improvement in after hours healthcare services and digital health needs in the community. This feedback is helping to build on the work of our 2022-2025 Health Needs Assessment.
Living situation and housing security
Of the Health Voices who responded to the survey, 41.67% owned their home with a mortgage; 40.28% owned their home without a mortgage; 7.94% rented alone or with housemates; 5.56% rented with family and 4.17% lived in a retirement home or similar.
Health Voices were asked to share how their housing security was in July compared to 12-months ago: 72.22% experienced no change; 19.35% felt less or much less secure, while 8.34% felt more or much more secure. No one was living with their parents, experiencing homeless or without secure housing.
Accessing care after hours
Health Voices were asked about how often they need to access healthcare services in the after hours period of outside 8am-6pm on weekdays, outside 8am-12pm on Saturdays, and all day on Sundays and Public Holidays.
Health Voices felt that the biggest restriction on after hours healthcare options in their community were:
Respondents expressed concerns about the availability and accessibility of after-hours healthcare services, particularly in regional areas.
The high cost of private practitioners, especially in rural regions like Bright, was highlighted as a significant barrier to receiving healthcare outside regular hours.
Limited medical assistance in emergency situations, including under-equipped hospitals, posed challenges to residents in regional Victoria.
Respondents identified various restrictions on after-hours healthcare options in their community, including:
- The need to travel 45 minutes to the nearest Emergency Department (ED) for care outside regular hours.
- A lack of understanding about available services and a desire for town or council services to provide information.
- Varied responses, with some having no restrictions, while others indicating uncertainty about when and where to seek help.
- In cases of urgency, some respondents mentioned contacting Nurse On Call, an ambulance, or attending the Wangaratta Emergency Department.
- Historical perspective: Access to good hospital services and GPs after hours has declined, necessitating long-distance travel for care.
Valuable changes suggested by respondents included:
- GPs/doctors available (23.94%)
- More appointments at existing services (21.13%)
- More in-person mental health services (16.90%)
- Easier access to far-away services or transport services (4.23%).
Specific comments and suggestions included the need for GPs to be on call in regional areas, more bulk billing services, and the importance of in-person mental health services. Respondents also highlighted the strain on local hospital emergency departments and the need for funding and improvements.
Digital health needs
- There was a call for better telehealth services to provide remote assistance and support for medical and health-related issues.
- Small hospitals require enhanced support to meet the healthcare needs of their communities.
- Positive feedback was received for Northeast Health Wangaratta services, indicating a strong appreciation for their efforts.
- Concerns were raised about the shortage of healthcare providers, both medical and allied health professionals, during after-hours.
- Specific requests were made for after-hours paediatric support and healthcare services.
- Some respondents mentioned concerns about disclosure of their identity and sexuality when seeking healthcare services.
Challenges and suggestions
- The healthcare system was described as being in crisis, with limited access to after-hours care and a need for systemic improvement.
- There was a call for better pay and conditions for general practitioners (GPs) to encourage them to provide after-hours services.
- Concerns were raised about the affordability of healthcare, leading some individuals to seek care in emergency departments where services are free.
- The lack of bulk billing access for low-income individuals was highlighted as a major issue.
- Suggestions were made for a dedicated after-hours healthcare service, staffed by a pool of district personnel, and potentially incorporating AI (artificial intelligence) in the future.
- Accessibility of healthcare services in rural areas was identified as a significant problem, leading some individuals to take time off work to see a GP.
- The need for better communication and centralised information about available healthcare services, especially for those without internet access, was emphasised.
- Concerns were raised about access to imaging services after hours and during the planned annual leave of practitioners.
The findings highlight significant challenges in providing after-hours healthcare services, especially in rural regions. Respondents expressed the need for improved access to affordable and comprehensive healthcare, including digital health solutions. Addressing these concerns is essential to ensure the wellbeing of individuals in the community and improving the overall healthcare system.
If you need help
If you need urgent advice or care when your GP isn't available and it is not an emergency, alternative options include the GP advice and support line, Nurse on Call, supercare pharmacies, and priority primary care centres and urgent care clinics. To learn more about these services, click here.