06.11.2019 14:48 Age: 84 days

Innovative strategy that transformed regional healthcare is award finalist

The ground-breaking Southern Inland Health Initiative (SIHI), which transformed regional health care in WA’s southern inland area, was a finalist for a WA Health Excellence Award in the Overcoming Inequities category.

Challenging the way traditional health services were designed, focused and delivered, SIHI changed the approach to care in regional WA, overcoming many inequities for people accessing health care services in regional communities.

Introduced by the WA Country Health Service (WACHS) in 2011, the multi-pronged approach saw investment in the medical and clinical workforce, establishment of the world-renowned Emergency Teleheatlh Service (ETS), targeted primary health care services, a significant health infrastructure program and expansion of the telehealth network that set the foundation for future state-wide innovation in the delivery of health care services.

The SIHI final evaluation report shows the SIHI doctor incentive program significantly boosted the number of doctors living and working in the southern inland area by 58 per cent, providing locals with better access to GPs. More doctors and nurse practitioners in SIHI towns reduced reliance on country EDs for non-urgent cases, with a 32 per cent reduction in non-urgent ED attendances at SIHI hospitals. It also resulted in more doctors being available to fill paid ED rosters at the larger country hospitals, significantly improving patient safety.

The Emergency Telehealth Service (ETS), introduced under SIHI in 2012, has supported country clinicians in transforming emergency care for regional and remote patients. Under SIHI, the ETS expanded to 79 sites across country WA. In 2017-18 there were more than 18,500 ETS consultations.

Expansion of the telehealth network under SIHI significantly increased the number of people across WA accessing outpatient appointments closer to home, saving them time, money and the inconvenience of travelling to a major centre for a follow-up appointment. In 2018 alone, telehealth saved WA patients from travelling 28.6 million kilometres for outpatient appointments.

SIHI formally ended on 30 June 2018. Building on the successes and learnings of SIHI, WACHS is continuing the health service delivery reform process and improvements to health infrastructure through the establishment of the Country Health Initiative (CHI), supported by more than $595 million over five years. CHI aims to strengthen rural health services with a focus on further improvements in digital innovation, emergency care and health infrastructure.

WACHS Executive Director Strategy and Change Melissa Vernon said SIHI changed WA’s regional health landscape, challenged the way health services were designed, focused and delivered and overcome many inequities in access to health care services for country communities.

“We are very pleased this innovative, successful program is a finalist for a WA Health Excellence Award.

“Delivering SIHI over seven years was a significant team effort across the whole of WACHS; we should all be very proud of the difference this program has made for country people.”

The WA Health Excellence Awards was in Perth on 7 November.

WA Country Health Service had nine finalists across eight project categories.

You can view the complete list of finalists here.