The Virtual Allied Health Service (VAHS) at Western New South Wales Local Health District (WNSWLHD) provides virtual services to rural healthcare facilities in the disciplines of dietetics, occupational therapy, speech pathology, physiotherapy and social work.
WNSWLHD is geographically the largest local health district (LHD) in NSW. At 246,676 square kilometres, it covers 31% of NSW and provides healthcare to a population of over 278,759.
The region of the WNSWLHD has a limited number of allied health clinicians compared with metropolitan areas. Combined with uneven distribution of the workforce, there is an inequity in access to allied health services for the population.
In 2014, a review of the allied health workforce was completed, with recommendations for an equitable distribution of services based on socioeconomic determinants of health and relative health needs of communities.
The Virtual Allied Health Service (VAHS) pilot was implemented in 2017 to address this challenge by trialling virtual service delivery models in five identified disciplines. The model aimed to provide allied health services for people without local access to face-to-face allied health care, and to explore which interventions could be delivered virtually effectively.
Services are delivered in a range of settings including: Multipurpose Services (MPS), other rural health facilities and in the patient’s home. VAHS service delivery is now provided in the following five disciplines:
- Dietetics: video and phone calls for the treatment and intervention of people who are malnourished/ at risk of malnutrition, those with gastrointestinal issues or requiring diabetes management for inpatients and residents of the MPS.
- Occupational therapy: video-based consultations, servicing MPS and rural health facility acute patients, aged care residents and community clients. Interventions include pressure injury prevention, equipment prescriptions and home modifications.
- Speech pathology: video calls to provide dysphagia/swallowing assessments and intervention for people in rural inpatient and MPS rural facilities across the LHD.
- Physiotherapy: video calls for treatment and follow up of MPS residential aged care residents, as well as inpatient and outpatient with a focus on managing musculoskeletal disorders.
- Social work: video and phone-based consultation, treatment and intervention as well as follow up services that support the needs of people admitted in MPS and rural health facilities. Services are available to all inpatient facilities across the LHD without an on-site or outreach social worker.