Pi­lot pro­gramme takes off


Toko­roa is tak­ing part in a na­tional pi­lot that could change the shape of the med­i­cal in­dus­try in New Zealand.

Health Work­force NZ has jointly con­tracted seven physi­cian as­sis­tants from the United States for two years to trial this new ad­di­tion to our med­i­cal work­force.

In Toko­roa MHN and WDHB have jointly funded two work­ing in its town­ship.

Amee Koch and Jeremy Palmer are both work­ing out of the Medi­cen­tre un­der the guid­ance of Doc­tor Ian Kirkby and Doc­tor Ralph Wiles.

Dr Kirkby who has been treat­ing the Toko­roa com­mu­nity for 36 years said that small ru­ral ar­eas like Toko­roa would ben­e­fit from physi­cian as­sis­tants.

‘‘We re­ally, re­ally are short of doc­tors to see the pa­tients, so they [ physi­cian as­sis­tance] have en­abled us to meet that de­mand. They work un­der our su­per­vi­sion for what they plan to do and in­ves­ti­gate.’’’

Dr Kirkby said both Ms Koch and Mr Palmer are a wel­come ad­di­tion to the team.‘

‘The two that we have are very good and have fit­ted in very well.

‘‘ They are ob­vi­ously very skilled . . . and they seem to be well re­ceived by the pa­tients.

‘‘The pa­tients have ap­pre­ci­ated, par­tic­u­larly, for more ur­gent at­ten­tion they can be seen that day or the next day, not a long de­lay.’’

Mr Palmer, 41, be­gan his con­tract al­most one year ago and said it has been phe­nom­e­nal tak­ing part in some­thing that may rev­o­lu­tionise New Zealand’s health sys­tem.

Physi­cian as­sis­tants have been work­ing in Amer­ica since 1965 but Mr Palmer said it has only been in the last 10 years that they have been recog­nised as vi­tal to the func­tion­ing of the health sys­tem.

Physi­cian as­sis­tant train for two to three years, study­ing a con­densed ver­sion of the cur­ricu­lum doc­tors must com­plete, Mr Palmer said.

Once qual­i­fied they are re­quired to work un­der a ‘‘ su­per­vis­ing physi­cian’’ who dic­tates the level of ser­vice they can pro­vide.

Both Mr Palmer and Ms Koch agree a healthy re­la­tion­ship be­tween GPs and physi­cian as­sis­tants is key to its suc­cess.

‘‘ If you don’t have a good re­port with your su­per­vi­sor it’s a night­mare.’’

Their ex­pe­ri­ence in New Zealand has shown true prom­ise for the pro­gramme’s ex­is­tence in New Zealand.

‘‘ Doc­tor Kirkby, who has cham­pi­oned the project, vol­un­teered to take the two of us on.

He has an amaz­ing calm, even de­meanour and al­ways takes time out of his day to an­swer ques­tions or consult with us.’’

Mr Palmer said he has been im­pressed with Dr Kirkby’s pas­sion.

‘‘De­spite hav­ing prac­tised for 36 years he stays up to date with the lat­est stud­ies go­ing on. I’ve been re­ally im­pressed with that.

If the new sys­tem is adopted by New Zealand it will pro­vide cheaper health­care, see­ing pa­tients who would oth­er­wise be seen by doc­tors, Ms Koch said.

Dr Kirkby be­lieves the com­bi­na­tion of doc­tors and phys- ician as­sis­tants is the way of the fu­ture for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

‘‘I think what will hap­pen is you will have GP’s like us su­per­vis­ing one or two physi­cian as­sis­tants and there­fore work­ing as a team. That com­bi­na­tion will cer­tainly work for places like Toko­roa that strug­gle to find doc­tors.’’

He be­lieves pa­tients will ben­e­fit from the in­creased amount of time that can be spent on each con­sul­ta­tion.

The pair and their men­tor are look­ing for­ward to the big merger of the three MHN prac­tices into a new health cen­tre tak­ing place on Jan­uary 20 where even greater col­lab­o­ra­tion of ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween health­care work­ers can hap­pen.

FU­TURE PROOF­ING: Toko­roa GP Dr Ian Kirkby (cen­tre) is men­tor­ing two physi­cian as­sis­tants from North Amer­ica to help with the pa­tient load in Toko­roa. Pic­tured is Amee Koch and Jeremy Palmer.

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