Ka Ora Telecare, a new telehealth service offering after hours health support for people living rurally, celebrated its nationwide launch in November.
Three existing telehealth providers, Reach Aotearoa, Practice Plus and Emergency Consult, have come together to form Ka Ora. Ka Ora was awarded the contract from Te Whatu Ora following an RFP process earlier in 2023. With each business already operating in telehealth, the bidding team could draw on their expertise and processes in order to be able to quickly scale up to a new nationwide after hours and overflow model.
The new system is designed to a) ensure rural communities can easily access health care after hours (or when their local GP practice is overloaded) in their own community via phone or video calls and b) reduce the strain on rural GP practices. Typically used for after hours care from 5pm to 8am on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays, the service also offers the flexibility of overflow care should a GP practice be struggling to manage patient load at other times.
“It’s a really flexible model – we tell rural practices they can use us as little or as much as they want,” says Jess White, Director of Ka Ora. “Rural practices have the option of switching their telephony over to Ka Ora to automatically divert calls, patients can also call our 0800 number directly or they can use our online booking portal. The focus has been entirely on ensuring continuity of care for patients remains with their enrolled provider.”
Greeted on the call by a kaiawhina (assistant) who ascertains the patient’s locality, the patient will go through to a robust nurse triage and then, if required, will be connected with either a GP or Nurse Practitioner for a phone or video consultation. From 10pm onwards, a nurse will answer the phone directly and will connect with an Emergency Department clinician if further support is required.
In terms of cost, due to funding from Te Whatu Ora, there is no cost to rural practices and no ‘clawback’ from Ka Ora if they see a practice’s patient. All patient fees align with the Rural GP model, including free care for under 14-year-olds. “We have put mechanisms into the model of care to ensure we complement rural GP care and sustainability, not undermine it,” says Jess.
The Ka Ora team is currently busy with onboarding rural practices in the lead-up to the holiday season as GP practices in summer hotspots are often quickly overloaded with the influx of tourists. Typically, a person visiting a rural area who requires health care will contact a local medical centre. Under the Ka Ora model, that medical centre can choose, based on their workload and staffing levels to either offer their own service or to redirect to Ka Ora.
“The summer holiday period can be an incredibly stressful time for rural practices,” says Jess. “Being able to offer the option of an additional remote team to support the local health workforce is another significant benefit of the Ka Ora model.”
To find out more about Ka Ora, go to www.kaora.co.nz.