14 March 2024

​Communities in Bombala, Braidwood, Crookwell, Delegate and Yass now have access to 24-hour virtual medical support, specialty-level advice, critical care expertise, transport, logistics, and coordination support, thanks to the Virtual Rural Generalist Service (VRGS) now being available in Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD).

The VRGS service ensures that patients presenting to our rural emergency departments, hospitals, and multipurpose services have medical coverage with a VRGS doctor who will provide both virtual and in person coverage locally, extending the reach of healthcare services without eclipsing the invaluable role of local healthcare providers.

Minister for Regional Health, Ryan Park, said the VRGS model meets community expectations for enhanced service delivery in rural areas.

“Virtual care serves as a bridge, connecting patients in remote regions with specialist expertise, enhancing and supporting the personalised care that can be delivered locally by rural and regional doctors across NSW.” Mr Park said.

VRGS doctors are experienced, Australian-trained clinicians who work both virtually and in person to provide specialist medical coverage for hospitals and multipurpose services (MPS) and fatigue management when a local visiting medical officer is not available.

SNSWLHD is trialling VRGS at five pilot sites in Bombala, Braidwood, Crookwell, Delegate and Yass from July 2023 in collaboration with Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD), which implemented the service in 2020 and received last year’s Premier’s Award for Excellence in Digital Innovation for developing the model.

“The VRGS service ensures that patients presenting to our rural emergency departments, hospitals, and multipurpose services can see a doctor without having to unnecessarily travel to other hospitals,” Mr Park said.

Member for Monaro Steve Whan believes the VRGS will have a strong impact on health workforce satisfaction and retention rates.

“The technical assistance and support these virtual health service upgrades will provide for our local doctors is vital in bridging the health gaps in our area,” Mr Whan said.

“I’m extremely grateful for the greater continuity of care and comprehensive treatment these upgrades will grant Southern NSW LHD patients.”

Labor spokesperson for Goulburn Bob Nanva MLC is looking forward to seeing the effects this service will have on the overall health and wellbeing of the community by improving their access to specialised treatment.

“I’m excited about the benefits this innovative virtual model of care offers our regional health services, both for their patients and staff,” Mr Nanva said.

“The connection our health care professionals have with the community is something I’m deeply proud of and I’m looking forward to seeing how the service will continue to strengthen those relationships.”

SNSWLHD Chief Executive Margaret Bennett said VRGS will also help manage fatigue and relieve burnout amongst rural medical staff, and in doing so the model has been proven to significantly assist the recruitment and retention of clinicians in regional areas.

“VRGS will ensure our local doctors can maintain a healthy work-life balance while knowing their community is being well looked after,” Ms Bennett said.

“The service also empowers our nursing staff to care for their patients locally, with the reassurance that VRGS doctors with comprehensive knowledge of our District’s services and procedures are always readily available.”

People seeking medical assistance in Bombala, Braidwood, Crookwell, Delegate and Yass should continue to present to their local Emergency Department as they currently do. They will be triaged by on-site nursing staff, who will arrange the clinical assessment and treatment with a VRGS doctor using mobile virtual care equipment.

Patients and their carers can then see, hear, and interact directly with the VRGS doctor on screen, answering questions and discussing their condition, all with the support of onsite nursing staff.

Once a plan care is finalised, the patient will either be referred for specialist care at another facility, admitted as an inpatient for further care, or discharged with advice by the VRGS doctor and nursing team, as is also the case with on-site doctors.​