Specialist Clinics team step up in COVID response

When you’re part of a team that sees 280,000 patients per year, the news that you need to tell people to stay away can be a daunting request.

This has been the challenge facing the staff in Specialist Clinics as they respond to the COVID pandemic.

The Divisional Manager of Specialist Clinics, Lynnette Reid-Price, said it has been a case of all hands-on deck.

“The team has worked with others across Austin Health to help prevent around 6000 appointments per week happening on site,” Lynnette said.

“In a typical year, almost 100% of our Specialist Clinics appointments are done face to face but we’ve had to find other ways to see patients to keep them and others safe from the risk of COVID.

“By rolling out a range of options including telehealth, phone and video-conferencing the team has been able to dramatically reduce the number of patients physically coming in, to the point where some clinics have gone to 100% phone or video-based appointments.

“This has required a huge amount of work by admin and nursing staff to communicate the changes to patients and also deal with the queries that have come back as people getting used to a new way of being treated.

“The new way of doing things has been really well accepted by our patients and we have received fantastic feedback which has shown us that the patient experience has been really positive.

“We saw 26,000 patients in May with our Fail To Attend (FTA) rate down from 9% to under 6% for the month,” she said.

Lynnette said the team has also needed to engage directly with patients to discuss the changes and help the community to navigate through a new way of receiving their care.

“We’ve certainly seen a jump in the number of calls coming through our call centre as patient get used to having appointments over the phone or via video,” she said.

“Email queries have also doubled and we’ve had enormous support from IT and Volunteer Services to enable us to communicate with patients and let people know what they need to do to access care.

“We’re continuing to improve the way we engage with patients and there is no doubt that a number of the initiatives that have been developed in response to COVID will be part of the way we provide services in a post-COVID world.

“A big thank to staff and those other teams who have helped us to react to a such a hugely changing environment.

"We know there’s been a significant impact on BAU for all clinical units, and we really appreciate everyone’s patience while we work through the next phase of our recovery plan,” Lynnette said.