Tag Archives: Rural Doctors

Rural GP Anaesthetists – a ‘special needs’ mob?

As a rural doc I’m very lucky to have a job that is varied. I tell students and junior doctors that rural medicine offers all the stimulation and challenges of all the ‘best bits’ of medicine.

Currently I practice primary healthcare, emergency medicine and anaesthetics (I gave up obstetrics last year).

So this weekend just gone was a highlight – a chance to attend an annual GP-anaesthetics conference at one of the mainland tertiary hospitals. I’ve had this date ruled off in my diary for 12 months now…so you can imagine my disappointment when the ferry to/from Kangaroo Island sustained damage in the recent storms and the replacement therapy had to be hurriedly re-surveyed, launched and pressed into service. Needless to say all Rex flights were booked out days ahead and despite lots of people needing to get to/from KI, Rex declined to put on extra flights.

Noone can control the weather, but the lack of a contingency plan was disappointing. Not that Rex have a strong history of customer service…

Anyway, I missed the first day of the two day conference. But although I made it to the second, I was somewhat underwhelmed by what I did attend, cementing further my belief that there needs to be content tailored to the rural GPA delivered by people who ‘get’ rural medicine.

To backtrack, I went to my first rural GP-anaesthetist in NSW last year. It was really good, a day and a half of lectures, plus a half day in the sim lab doing emergency scenarios. But what struck me there was the disparity in equipment and resources available between city and rural anaesthetists…as well as between rural GPAs in different parts of the State. Lectures by some of the FANZCAs were all very interesting…but often they did not realise the conditions in which rural GPAs work (isolated, minimal equipment, no backup, cash-starved). At the same time I was getting increasingly inspired by blogs such as Resus.me, BroomeDocs.com, Prehospitalmed.com and LifeInTheFastLane – all of which seemed highly relevant to my practice.

So I resolved to look at some quality improvement in my own practice on my return to SA, mindful of the fact that it made sense to have commonalities in equipment and protocols available to rural anaesthetic providers. Setting up a GoogleDocs survey was relatively easy, and I was gratified to get a 2/3 response rate from rural GP-anaesthetists around Australia on my topic of difficult airway equipment availability. I’ll be talking about this at the Fremantle Rural Medicine Australia conference and my paper should be out in the Oct-Dec volume of Rural & Remote Health. Stay tuned…

So, a year down the track I had really high hopes of further upskilling in SA. Whilst most of the content was good, there was an alarming propensity of some lectures to cover topics like cell salvage, lab-markers in major transfusion and the like – all very interesting, but not translatable to the rural practice environment where such resources aren’t available. Questions on topics such as delayed sequence intubation and whole blood live donor panels were unfamiliar ground for the FANZCA experts, although very pertinent to many of the rural doctors.

Small group sessions made up for it, with hands on experience and chances for case discussion.

But a common theme amongst the people I spoke to was that city anaesthetists task with lecturing had very little idea of the resource limitations in country areas. The vast majority of us don’t have remifentanil..or desflurane..or BIS…or access to FFP/cryo/platelets…or labs..or $15K videolaryngoscopes. The FANZCAs who visit rural hospitals, whether for elective lists or retrieval, did at least have an idea of our circumstances Yand ‘special needs’

So, what does the rural GPA really need?

– lectures from experienced anaesthetists? Hell yes.
– small group sessions and case discussions? Even better.
– topics targetted to the audience and suggestions for improvement. Absolutely!

…and to top it off, perhaps consideration be given to sharing the knowledge base by holding two sessions per year (allows more docs to attend…as if one doc is at the conference, the other needs to be oncall)

…and even better, consider delivering content in rural areas by taking some of the ideas on the road.

The other thing that concerns me is the lack of communication between rural docs. Locally the RDASA has a ‘rural anaesthetists’ email group, but it has been inactive for a few years. It seems that many of us have the same issues with respect to equipment procurement, training and upskilling – yet operate in silos. Moreover there is little ‘top-down’ direction – certainly I have no sense of direction from the ‘Country Health SA Anaesthetic Consultant’ and it would be nice to see some more dynamism.

Maybe next year will be better…I’m going to keep pushing the barrel for local delivery of leading edge concepts in EM/anaesthesia that are rurally relevant for myself and other doctors.

Email me if you have any thoughts on this.

Obfuscation & the ‘Blame Game’

Well, I was not expecting that the letter in my last post would be referred to in ‘The Weekend Australian‘ in follow-up to a previous report. Thanks to Dr Scott Lewis of Wudinna for telling me.

Oh dear.

There seems to be confusion about the issue of ED patients being charged fees in rural SA hospitals. It’s something that has been an issue locally every since I have been on Kangaroo Island, and my colleagues tell me has been going longer still. I refer to the fact that patients presenting with serious problems (examples might include assessment after a car crash, a suspected fracture/dislocation, a forensic medical exam after sexual assault, repair of a complex laceration) are forced to pay the attending doctor, whilst they would receive the same service for free in a metro ED or interstate.

This is counter to the Australian Healthcare Agreement and the letter which is referred to in the Weekend Australian support this. The practice has been longstanding in South Australia, and I reckon arises over confusion over what is an emergency and what is a GP-type service.

The Australian college of Emergency Medicine have recently issued a media release that dispels the myth of triage 4/5 patients being ‘GP-type’ attendances, and highlights concern for such cost-shifting between State and Federal coffers.

Me? I am just fed up having to charge people for conditions that are more serious than your usual GP attendance, more so when they have been referred to the ED by another GP or a GP after hours service like HealthDirect. Don;t get me wrong, I am happy to charge privately for my services when it is appropriate – but charging a mental health patient, a rape victim or a car crash victim several hundred dollars just seems wrong. Much better to be paid by the Health Department, after all the doctor is attending in his/her role on the on call A&E roster, not as a private arrangement.

Today I received an email from the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia, which appears to cling to paragraph G21 of the Australian Healthcare Agreement, which allows for medicare billing in the specific circumstance of “eligible patients may obtain non-admitted patient services as private patients where they request treatment by their own GP, either as part of continuing care or by prior arrangement with the doctor” (my emphasis underlined).

The RDASA email states:


There has been a lot of email traffic and concern from you about the article appearing in the Australian over the weekend inferring that charging patients for after-hours services in publicly funded hospitals was contravening the National Health Care reform document. 

Please be assured that the RDASA Executive have taken immediate action on this issue, writing to Minister John Hill referring him to section G.19 of that Agreement and the assurances from CHSA that the current arrangements are acceptable to the Federal government. We have sought written confirmation that:

·         Doctors can bill Medicare for triage level 4 and 5 after-hours consultations that occur at public country hospital facilities
·         Doctors will not have to pay back any money to Medicare for money already collected

Maybe I am being thick, but it seems unfair to use clause G21 to then slug rural patients for services that would receive for free in a metropolitan ED or interstate.

RDASA seem curiously quiet on this issue of equity and I fear that this approach may be regarded as more about preserving doctor’s incomes than in equity for their patients. Given that many of these patients are genuinely in crisis or not-medicare compensable (particularly in a tourist location like Kangaroo Island), I would much prefer to be paid by the Hospital for my services rather than bulk bill or chase bad debts. After all, the Hospital called me as the A&E doctor for the hospital, not the patient as part of a prior arrangement or agreed private service.

Anyway, here’s my letter to the RDAA on this issue. It will be interesting to see what eventuates.

Comments, as always, welcome.






Paul Mara
President
Rural Doctors Association of Australia
10 May 2012
Dear RDAA
You may be aware of the recent ‘Weekend Australian’ article regarding billing of public patients attending public emergency departments in South Australia (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/warning-for-states-on-hospital-charges/story-e6frgczx-1226347278031). Last month I received a letter from Minister Plibersek’s office (attached) which supported my concerns regarding the practice of charging public patients in public EDs for non-admitted services. This letter was posted on my blog site and subsequently referred to by The Weekend Australian without my knowledge. 
I have been seeking clarification on this matter since 2007 from the South Australian Health Department, as there exists significant potential for cost-shifting from State to Federal Health budgets. Specifically, patients who attend the Emergency Department are annoyed at having to pay fees for non-admitted attendances in rural areas.
I should clarify that these fees are being charged not just for GP-type attendances, but for ED attendances that require the resources of a hospital and can chew up considerable time for assessment and treatment. Many of these patients have been referred to a rural ED by GP-after hours services such as HealthDirect, and are not typical of GP attendances in metropolitan areas. Examples might include the assessment of car crash victims after a rollover, forensic medical examination after sexual assault; urgent mental health assessment of patient brought in by Police; the assessment, X-ray, manipulation under anaesthetic and plastering of fracture/dislocation; repair of complex laceration etc. These are services that Country Health SA has in the past deemed ineligible for admission and hence cost-shifted to Medicare by refusing to remunerate doctors on the A&E roster.
On questioning this in the past, South Australian doctors have been directed to clause G21 of the Healthcare Agreement which states:
in those hospitals that rely on GPs for the provision of medical services…eligible patients may obtain non-admitted patient services as private patients where they request treatment by their own GP, either as part of continuing care or by prior arrangement with the doctor”
The most recent (indeed, only) contract between rural doctors in SA with Country Health SA goes further, to state :
“after hours GP services and non-admitted emergency services are provided under the Medicare system (ie the patient is charged by the medical practitioner and seeks reimbursement from medicare). For the avoidance of doubt, Country Health SA shall not be liable to pay any fee for such services
This statement in our contract neatly ties both emergency attendances and after hours GP services under the same umbrella, ie: to be charged to Medicare. This is at odds with legislation.
I understand the RDASA has recently written to the RDAA on this matter. From the email to SA members, the issue has been obfuscated by confusing triage 4/5 patients with GP-type attendances, an assertion that is not reflected in either the National Healthcare Agreements or current contracts in SA. Indeed, the Australian College of Emergency Medicine gave recently issued a media release on this very issue, dispelling the myth that “ED triage 4 or 5 patients = GP attendance” and highlighting the concern for State to Federal cost-shifting by such ploys (see http://www.acem.org.au/media/media_releases/GP_Patients_ED_attendances.pdf).
I am concerned that this issue disadvantages rural Australians In SA who may defer ED attendance for potentially serious conditions due to fear of fees. I am concerned that the SA Health Department is promulgating an interpretation of the Australian Healthcare Agreement which is at variance with other States and which both Medicare and the Federal Health Minister’s office have told me is not allowable. I am concerned that genuine GP after hours or private arrangements (where I am more than happy to charge a private fee) are being used as a cover to defray State health costs.  For the record, can I ask for your assistance to clarify with the Health Minister and RDASA:
  1. that the Australian Healthcare Agreement states that eligible public patients are entitled to free emergency care in a public ED,
  1. that the South Australian Department of Health is responsible for provision of emergency medical services in both metropolitan and country areas,
  1. that the contract between rural doctors and Country Health SA is to participate in on-call services for Emergency Medicine (A&E), not GP-after hours services,
  1. that whilst clause G21 does allow for rural doctors to charge privately (with Medicare rebate) this is only in the situation where patients “request treatment by their own GP, either as part of continuing care or by prior arrangement with the doctor”. Many patients who present to the ED have either been referred there by a GP or an after hours service (HealthDirect) or else have needs that require ED attendance. They have not requested treatment by their own GP nor is their a pre-existing prior arrangement with the doctor on call for the A&E roster for the State Health Department.
  1. that in situations where a patient elects to be treated privately by their own GP then clause G21 applies and Medicare fees are allowed,
  1. that the assertion that triage 4/5 patients are to be billed under Medicare is not supported in the Australian Healthcare Agreement and indeed is counter to advice from the Australian College of Emergency Medicine who dispel this myth in a recent media release and state “It is in the political interest of state governments to ensure that any definition of general practice patients seen in EDs yields high numbers. This helps perpetuate the myth that EDs have too many GP patients.”
  1. that the situation as it stands in South Australia is at odds with arrangements interstate.
I would be grateful for your clarification on the above points. To my mind it is vital that rural Australians are not disadvantaged when attending the ED with a genuine need. Similarly there may be concerns from rural doctors that such Medicare-billing is not supported and there needs to be clarification that such practices are allowable in certain circumstances (eg: as part of a GP after hours service utilising the local hospital premises, ie: private arrangement, ongoing care). I am happy to charge privately for my services when it is appropriate – but charging a mental health patient, a rape victim or a car crash victim several hundred dollars just seems wrong. Much better to be paid by the Health Department, after all the doctor is attending in his/her role on the on call A&E roster, not as a private arrangement.
I am sure you would agree that it is important for rural doctors to be seen to uphold the same standards in each State and to ensure that neither patients nor doctors are disadvantaged.
Sincerely
Dr Tim Leeuwenburg
Kangaroo Island, South Australia www.ki-docs.blogspot.com

Affordable Difficult Airway Kit

Well, this week I’ve been playing with some AirQ II blocker intubating LMAs (iLMAs) sent to me from a rep.
For those of you not familiar with an iLMA, the device is designed to allow ‘blind’ intubation of the airway, using the laryngeal mask airway (LMA) as a conduit.
The progenitor, with which most rural doctors and anaesthetists will be aware of, is the FastTrach LMA. It’s reported to allow up to 73% ‘first pass’ successful intubation rates, increasing to 90% overall success with repeated attempts and the ‘Chandy manoeuvre’. It’s not a bad piece of kit and we’ve got one on our airway trolley.
However, the FastTrach requires some practice to get used to. I made a point of using it at least once a month during my anaesthetic year, just to get used to the kit. Using equipment in training is quite different to using ‘in anger’, especially when there’s an evolving airway crisis. Problems that I found were
  • not always easy to pass the endotracheal tube into trachea
  • removing the LMA whilst leaving the ETT in situ is fiddly and risks losing both
  • overall success rate is 90% – so 1:10 will fail.
The C-Trach is an advancement on the FastTrach, improving rates for first pass and overall sucess to 96% and 98% respectively – basically this device is just a FastTrach with a video screen attached. Clearly then, addition of video allows visualisation of the cords and improves success rates.
However, neither FastTrach or CTrach allow you to place a nasogastric tube..unless you obturate the ETT and remove the LMA over the top, which is potentially fraght with difficulty.
Cue the AirQ iLMA.
This ‘new improved’ iLMA gets around the problems of FastTrach and CTrach – it’s similar in appearance to the FastTrach iLMA, albeit with a less acute angle. It also has a nifty side-port to allow passage of a nasogastric tube without having to remove the iLMA
Moreover, the device comes with dedicated nasogastric ‘blockers’ – an NG tube with an oesophageal balloon which can be inflated in the oesophagus to minimise aspiration risk and yet allow decompression of the stomach.
I tried it the other day in theatre and found it easy to use. As an LMA it functioned perfectly well, although I have heard some anecdotal evidence of increased supraglottic trauma with this device.
How then to improve success rates for passage of an ETT? Minh le Cong has described this elsewhere – use of a malleable intubating stylet such as the Levitan FPS allows visually-aided intubation through the iLMA conduit.
So we now have a staged procedure for the nightmare difficult airway where intubation has failed or priority is to oxygenate
  • drop in an AirQ II and ventilate
  • pass the oesophageal blocker to decompress the tummy
  • use a fibreoptic device to intubate through the iLMA, improving intubation rate
This strategy (fibreoptic intubation through an iLMA) is Plan B of the UK’s Difficult Airway Society algorithm. Yet how many of us are really prepared to do this and have practiced on kit? Most rural docs have access to a FastTrach…so ventilation and blind intubation are possible – yet the addition of an NG tube port and allowance of fibreoptic intubation seems to offer a higher standard of care. Of course, for many small hospitals fibreoptic devices have traditionally been out of range – high cost and difficulty acquiring and maintaining skills.
But for under $3K you can pick up a Levitan scope (malleable fibreoptic intubating stylet) or the Ambu Ascope II (five disposable flexible fibreoptic scopes). They may not be as good as the fibreoptic towers that people use for an awake fibreoptic intubation…but they are bloody good gadgets to use with the above technique.
So, what would be my preferred kit for a ‘difficult airway’? Well, I’d use the Difficult Airway Society (UK) and ANZCA T04 guidelines as a starting point…and in addition to the AirQ and some sort of fibreoptic device, I’d add in a videolaryngoscope. Sounds expensive? Well my suggestions for purchase are in square brackets below – for under $4K should be affordable for small rural hospitals…
Plan A – Initial Intubation Strategy
Standard laryngoscopy – if fail, change position, blade, operator. Consider use of a videolaryngoscope in case of difficult airway. If fail, move to…
[KingVision Videolaryngoscope ~ A$1000 inc. blades]
Plan B – Alternative Intubation Strategy
iLMA to maintain oxygenation and ventilation, then secure airway using fibreoptic intubation through iLMA. If fail, move to…
[AirQ II iLMAs A$30 each]
[either Levitan FPS or AmbuAscope II fibreoptic devices to intubate through iLMA]
Plan C – Maintain Oxygenation & Ventilation, Abandon Procedure and Wake Up
Bag-mask ventilation and reverse non-depolarising neuromuscular blocker (suggamadex for rocuronium) or wait for suxamethonium to wear off. If fail, move to…
[Rocuronium for RSI – prolong time to desat]
[Suggamadex to reverse rocuronium]
Plan D – Rescue Techniques for Failed Oxygenation & Ventilation
Bag 1 – Paediatric or Easy Anatomy
Needle Cricothyroidotomy technique


Bag 2 – Adult or Easy Anatomy
Scalpel-Bougie-ETT technique


Bag 3 – Impossible Anatomy
Scalpel-Finger-Needle technique
[Melker Kit]
I wouldn’t bother with the pre-packaged kits like QuickTrach or Seldinger kits as first line for CICV – in the heat of the moment, faffing around with wires etc can be a disaster. Better to have three equipment bags set up as above using standard equipment – oxygenate first – then move on to seldinger or formal tracheostomy. Some have commented that doing the above is sufficient to ‘save the day’ then either wake up the patient or proceed to successful laryngoscopy.