One doctor’s vision to improve heart health in the bush has expanded into a dream to deliver a wide range of specialist services to Queenslanders disadvantaged by the state’s vast distances.
Heart of Australia founder Dr Rolf Gomes first took his mobile cardiology clinic on the road in late 2014 – packed into a custom-made road train – to five towns in south west Queensland.
But already the team has expanded to include respiratory and sleep medicine, endocrinology, gastroenterology and renal colleagues, with more to join the roster when a second truck hits the bitumen and bulldust next year.
The specialist medical centre on wheels now visits more than a dozen towns from Hughenden, Winton and Longreach in central west Queensland to Goondiwindi and Stanthorpe near the NSW border.
Dr Gomes admits he has had to run the gauntlet of vested interests and bureaucracy, and as seen on ABC TV’s Australian Story, he has been disappointed with the lack of support from Queensland Health.
He told the limbic that while Queensland Health said they don’t fund private specialist outreach services, they’ve referred over 350 patients from public hospitals to his service.
“We’ve seen 1,601 new cardiac patients while the whole of Queensland Health’s cardiac outreach has seen 1,340 patients. We are now the dominant service provider in cardiac health in rural and regional Queensland and still growing.”
He added that telehealth has a role to play in rural health but said it was naïve to think it was the ‘silver bullet’ in every situation.
“It is better when it can be added on to face-to-face consultations with patients – after the first meeting when a lot of ground has been covered in terms of physical assessment and establishing rapport and trust.”
Dr Gomes said the success of Heart of Australia has been due to broad community support and engagement from medical specialists with ‘a generosity of spirit’.
“We’re trying to sustainably deliver a medical specialist workforce into these areas. The profession has some responsibility to provide these services. We need to be part of the solution.”
An anonymous donor has contributed $1 million to build the second mobile clinic.