Health Workforce Innovations in Response to the COVID Pandemic
Digital Networking to Enable Australia's Rural Health Professionals Through Natural Disaster & Emergencies
This strategy relates to rural health workforce sustainability and service quality in response to COVID-19. In recent years non-metropolitan Australia has been decimated by natural disaster and emergencies; drought, bushfire and more recently COVID-19. The professional and personal impact on Australia’s rural health workforce is visible, however the data on immediate, short and long-term consequence is yet to be methodologically assessed. Traditional mechanisms for self-care, professional connection and collegiate support and education and training have been limited, if not impossible, due to the significant disruption. Fast-paced adaptability and innovation have been required to maintain a level of continuity and support for all health professionals – not just clinical, to endure and persist.
NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN) is a 30-year-old independent, non-governmental organisation responsible for supporting the recruitment and retention of a capable health care workforce in Australia. In mid-2019, in response to the significant impacts of drought, RDN developed a series of innovative, technology driven wellbeing and training initiatives to provide support and connect rural health professionals. These initiatives were rapidly scaled in January 2020 in the bushfire emergency response, and then adapted and further developed to broader coverage during COVID-19. The guiding principles to this approach were ‘the system must continue’ and ‘we must find a way’, as leaving a gap in providing workforce support is not an option and we cannot leave health professionals to deal with this on their own. Every effort was made to ensure rural health professionals had continued and enhanced, access to selfcare, education and training and professional connectivity opportunities. Key elements of RDN’s technology-driven modalities include –
• A virtual (telehealth) workforce register and practice matching service
• Conversion of training and education events to a dedicated ‘digital venue’
• Establishment of a wellbeing and selfcare website aggregating all available and currently funded support services for health professionals – Rural Health Together
• Launch of a networking and information portal for rural health professionals - Rural Health Pro (RHP) providing health workforce news, job opportunities, education and training information, communities of practice, wellbeing and self-care support for rural health professionals.
Acute health, primary health care and social services settings in remote, rural and regional Australia.
Identified need from health professionals and the sector more broadly?; Commitment to respond and invest (Board and Executive level); Collaboration and support from partners; Subject matter expert involvement; Communication internally, and to the sec