A free after hours medical service trial in Katherine will be extended following a successful first six months.
The Northern Territory Primary Health Network has been running the trial of after-hours 'telehealth' for people in Katherine and Tindal since October last year.
Free of charge between 6pm and 8pm on weeknights, after 12pm on Saturday and all day Sunday, the over-the-phone service connects people with not life-threatening health needs to a doctor.
NT PHN chief executive officer Nicki Herriot said the telehealth service is not intended as a substitute or replacement for a patient's regular GP care.
"It is designed as a complementary service for times when the GP may not be accessible and people have urgent, but not life-threatening health needs," Ms Herriot said.
"The service is only free of charge during the after-hours times stated. If patients access the service outside of the after-hours periods, they will be charged the regular service fee."
Most Katherine residents were forced to attend the hospital's accident and emergency clinic since funding for an after hours clinic in town ran out several years ago.
But the phone service is cutting un-needed trips to the hospital and freeing up beds for those who need it most.
Patients calling from outside the trial area are directed to the current services available to them, while patients accessing the service are triaged and, if the service is appropriate, a doctor will call them back, usually within 30 minutes.
If the issue requires urgent care, the patients are guided or supported to access the most relevant service.
Triage centre operators and doctors are all based in Australia and doctors can prescribe medication, issue medical certificates and give referrals.
After the phone or video call appointment, the patient's regular GP is given details of what was discussed and actions taken.
Ms Herriot said that during, and following the trial, the service will be evaluated and considered for future funding.
"Cultural appropriateness will be included in the evaluation scope, while GP credentialing and specific cultural training measures are identified in the contract requirements," she said.
"NT PHN is committed to ongoing engagement with the Katherine community and service providers to ensure any commissioned after-hours primary health care service continues to address community-identified needs.
"We're always working to help Territorians enjoy their best health and wellbeing.
"For the Katherine community, that means expanding access to health services after-hours, helping people receive the care they need in a timely way."
To access the after-hours HealthNow service, call 1800 931 165.
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