GPs use videolink in Clare due to shortage of doctors

Patients in ShannonDoc treatment centre in Kilrush are seen remotely by Dublin doctor

Nurse Mary Canny assists patient Martina McMahon at Shannon Doc to use a video link to a GP in Dublin. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Nurse Mary Canny assists patient Martina McMahon at Shannon Doc to use a video link to a GP in Dublin. Photograph: Eamon Ward

 

Patients in rural west Co Clare are being seen remotely by a GP based in Dublin, under a new pilot scheme using innovative videolink technology.

ShannonDoc, a GP collective that provides out-of-hours appointments in the county, has resorted to video appointments due to a shortage of family doctors in Clare.

The first patients to be treated under the new system were seen in recent weeks in a treatment centre in Kilrush by a GP sitting in an office in Dublin.

The service uses technology that allows the GP to measure patients’ vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure. The doctor can also record images of the area of complaint, such as the throat, middle ear, skin and eyes, and listen to heart and lung sounds.

Patients contacting the centre in Kilrush for medical assistance are first triaged on the phone by a nurse, who can usually deal with about 30 per cent of issues raised. For urgent calls, a doctor is sent out or the patient is directed to the local emergency department.

‘Routine stuff’

“This is for routine stuff, such as flu or ear, nose and throat infections,” said Mike Finucane of ShannonDoc.

Suitable cases are advised to attend in the clinic for a remote appointment with the GP, who can send a prescription if required to the local pharmacy.

Three patients were seen on the first evening the service operated.

“There was some wariness but it was okay once things were explained to them,” he said.

The service operates on weekdays from 6pm-11pm and is funded by ShannonDoc with help from the HSE.

Mediserve, the equipment supplier, is currently providing the GP but the co-op plans to train its own doctors to fill the role.

“This was never about economics,” said Mr Finucane, who said that the number of GPs in the county had declined from 22 to 15 in a few years. “The more we can do to make out-of-hours work more attractive, the greater chance we have of attracting GPs back into our rural areas”.

Similar technology has been trialled by GPs in the northeast, but in this case the apparatus was carried by paramedics making home visits, who use it to communicate remotely with doctors.