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BY FIVE: Telehealth ready to help parents, babies and young children in West Wimmera


Long, tiring and costly regular drives from the west of Victoria to visit medical specialists in Melbourne and Ballarat might soon be a thing of the past for parents, babies and young children in Hindmarsh with telehealth now a real option for families in the region.

Hindmarsh Maternal and Child Health (MCH) nurse Mandy Stephan has been involved in the Wimmera Southern Mallee (WSM) Early Years Project, or BY FIVE, for the past two years.

“We have families in this area who need regular consultations with specialist doctors in Ballarat or Melbourne,” explains Mrs Stephan, who adds that many premature babies or those with a history of illness require follow up visits or reviews, while some pregnant women also need specialist obstetrics appointments, not available locally.  “They are travelling regularly, spending more time in the car than at home.”

“Some families just don’t have the financial means to be able to do that. Sometimes those visits just don’t happen.”

Thanks to BY FIVE, Mrs Stephan had the opportunity to explain the issue to Karen Modoo, the BY FIVE co-ordinator, and Rachel Robinson from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute who, explains Mrs Stephan, were able to make the necessary connections.

They were able to introduce Mrs Stephan to the possibilities of using telehealth to support families in Hindmarsh so that some of their visits to Melbourne or Ballarat might instead be replaced by an on screen link up, with the specialist at one end of the line and the family and the MCH nurse at the other.

“We have been exploring the possibilities of using telehealth in conjunction with direct visits,” says Mrs Stephan. “Perhaps the family, rather than travelling every month for example, might be able to travel instead every two or four months, cutting their costs.”

Mrs Stephan explains that telehealth visits could be done from the MCH office or the family home, as long as there was suitable digital connectivity.

“You’d have the specialist or the allied health professional or psychologist on the screen and the MCH nurse sitting there, supporting and safeguarding the family, ensuring they understand the next course of action.”

According to Mrs Stephan, all that’s needed now is her first family to use the new approach.

The BY FIVE project is one of the first Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Partnership-driven projects to get off the ground and is a partnership with the Department of Education and Training (DET) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), with support from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

The project came out of the Regional Partnership Assembly process with the WSM community identifying in 2016 that improving early years’ outcomes in the region was a major priority.

BY FIVE is working in five clusters in the region to see where improvements can be made to ensure early years services in each community are joined up and working effectively for families and children. It is seeking bespoke place-based solutions to meet local needs.

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