November 17, 2022

Big Idea: Medical Community Virtual Consult Service

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance and value of technology.

The success of Northern Health’s Victorian Virtual Emergency Department (VVED) has highlighted the opportunity to engage and deliver healthcare through virtual platforms.

Dr David Langsford, Head of Medical Obstetrics and Nephrologist at Northern Health, had an idea to provide a virtual service for GPs to directly access hospital-based specialist expertise, to discuss complex patient management in the community.

The newly established Medical Community Virtual Consult (MCVC) service enables GPs to book an appointment with dedicated internal medicine specialists that is conducted through HealthDirect. The GP can attend the appointment with or without the patient and their family, to discuss medical issues, investigations, results and plans.

“The aim of the MCVC service is to foster reliable communication between primary care and medical specialists. We believe this will help both GPs and specialists provide good and prompt care with their patients, avoiding duplication and waiting times for appointments,” David said.

“Internationally, versions of this idea have been successful at reducing the need for referrals for primary care to specialist outpatient clinics and emergency departments. Once established, for some disciplines, 50 to 70 per cent of contemplated referrals from primary care are avoided, and patients can continue to have good care delivered by their GP, knowing that they have access to and support by Northern Health. Over time, this will help to reduce outpatient clinic waiting lists.”

David trialled the service during COVID-19 outbreaks over the past two years. He then submitted his idea in the February 2022 round of The Big Ideas Campaign. He has worked alongside the High Reliability Organisation (HRO) and VVED teams to roll out this new and exciting service, which went live last week.

The service currently offers 20-minute appointments with GPs to discuss complex patient cases. The MCVC service provides Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) billable times for GPs to access the service, initially from 12.30 pm to 3.30 pm, Monday to Friday. At present, Podiatry and Pharmacy departments are assisting physicians in the virtual service, utilising the opportunity to case conference and network with community partners.

“GPs are already reporting that they have found the service helpful and intend to make more use of the service. We have also made the service available to the VVED as a once only virtual hot clinic to follow up with patients that need some extra assistance after a VVED visit,” David said.

There are plans to expand the service to incorporate more specialities and disciplines in 2023, with the possibility of also offering the service in catchments outside Northern Health.

“At present, MCVC is providing only internal medicine advice and support for GPs, but as we demonstrate that this approach can work to aid GPs and specialities to collaborate more efficiently in patient care, there will be more opportunities for other specialities to be involved,” David said.

“There has already been interest expressed from GPs outside our catchment, both metropolitan and rural. Once we’re established, growing to support a larger primary care community might be possible.”

MCVC can be accessed here.

Featured image: Steph Castagnini and Dr Vinita Rane on screen.