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.