Landing in King Island 2016
I recently came across this photo when looking through some old memories. It was taken shortly after disembarking at King Island airport in 2015. It reminded me of what a fantastic opportunity I had to work on the island. We usually arrived early morning and the light this day was particularly inspirational.
My Island Experience
I flew over for the day from my then home in Launceston for an outreach clinic, funded by Tasreach. This federal government grant allowed the Tasmanspine Spinal Pain Assessment and Management program to be delivered to regional areas. The outreach clinics ran 12 times per year and delivered access to pain management services otherwise not available in regional areas of northern Tasmania including King Island.
I have to admit that King Island was one of my favourite places to visit. The people were generous and held a strong community spirit. They were hard workers, with many residents holding multiple jobs to keep the island running. One of my patients worked on her farm during the day, waited tables in the evenings, and mowed the horse racing track on weekends.
In general, the residents of King Island looked after their own and everyone had a role to play in the community. There was a large share economy and many odd jobs could be done for a crayfish or two! I’ll always remember taking home an esky full of fresh seafood generously gifted from one very grateful patient whom I had treated for a spinal tumour.
The outreach clinic on King Island was a variation of the clinics we ran on mainland Tasmania. Dinah Spratt, physiotherapist, would commence the initial assessment and then she would hand over for me to complete the assessment with imaging review and together we would develop a management plan. Oftentimes management consisted of education or self-directed exercises but occasionally patients had to fly off the island for further investigation, injections, or occasionally surgery.
We found this group of patients were a resilient group and our pain management messages had to be tailored a little differently. The striking thing we found was that despite the level of pain complaints being similar to our usual patients, the level of disability as a result of pain was quite different, with most people just getting on with their daily tasks regardless. As one dairy farmer put it to me – ”who else is going to milk the bloody cows?” Attempting to teach the locals the concept of “Pacing” activities did not always hit the mark on the island.
I miss my time on King Island and taking our team to the regions of Northern Tasmania. Of all the different things I have had the opportunity to achieve in my career, this program stands out as one of the most fulfilling. Our motto was “we come to you!” which reflected the appreciation we received for the traveling team.
The impact of COVID-19 & the growth of Telehealth
Unfortunately, the federal government dropped the funding for our Tasreach program after 3 years and it was too expensive to continue without the grant. Now with the current travel restrictions in place due to the COVID 19 pandemic the prospect of taking specialist care to the regions is looking very remote. It is unfortunate that regional areas, who have always struggled to attract medical specialists, will suffer even greater difficulty accessing care.
One of the few positives to come out of COVID 19 is that it has forced me to incorporate telehealth into my current practice and the acceptance from the general public has been encouraging. Although we will still need to see our patients for some aspects of assessment and care, many of our consults can be successfully performed via telehealth. COVID 19 has brought telehealth a long way forward and I think that although many patients will prefer to attend in person where they can, it will provide access to care for regional patients who would otherwise miss out. It is time-consuming and expensive to take clinics such as ours to the regions but it helps to establish relationships with the locals and gives patients more confidence in telehealth when they are already familiar with the health provider. I hope we can eventually get back there in person and enjoy the people and the other great attractions but until then I can see telehealth filling an important gap.
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About Dr David Edis
Dr David Edis is an Orthopaedic and Spine Surgeon. David’s areas of special interest include the management of adult spinal conditions as well as hip and knee replacements. He has extensive experience in all facets of spine surgery from simple to complex, covering cervical to lumbo-pelvic conditions. He is an active researcher and medical educator and believes in lifelong learning. He is constantly updating his skills and helping other surgeons.