27 September 2023

Canberra health program catches national interest

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Interstate hospitals around Australia are looking to replicate a Canberra Health Services (CHS) initiative which has led to people with autoimmune diseases and inflammation related to their arthritis being received for care faster.

Welcoming the success of the nurse-led rheumatology clinic, CHS said that prior to its opening the longest wait time for treatment was 1,875 days, it’s now down to 175 days.

The Service said the key to the clinic’s success was CHS’s Biljana Zeljkovic, the only rheumatology advance practice nurse working in Australia.

Ms Zeljkovic said she assessed and managed patients who were medically and clinically stable and needed regular care, “which helps free up the specialist’s time for more complex cases.”

“We needed new ways of assessing and managing chronic disease and long-term conditions, particularly in looking at how nurse expertise can improve access to patient care,” Ms Zeljkovic said.

“By doing research like this we can learn about diseases, patients, and treatments,” she said.

“We can also improve the patient and carer experience and provide the best evidence-based care to our patients.”

CHS said the best thing about Ms Zeljkovic’s collaborative clinical and research work in this field was the significant reduction in wait times, which led to faster patient access to care and high levels of patient satisfaction.

It said that over a 12-week period of assessing and managing non-urgent rheumatology referrals, 43 patients were discharged and removed from the wait list.

“There has been no need to re-refer patients, because of the high rate of satisfaction from patients surveyed about the quality of care they received,” CHS said.

“In fact, the program was so successful, hospitals in Sydney and Hobart have been in touch with Biljana to set up similar nurse-led clinics, and Biljana was also recently recognised for her work at the 2022 Australian Rheumatology Association’s Annual Scientific Meeting Awards.”

It said nurse practitioners who specialised in this area were very limited, with only five working in the field and an estimated 50 rheumatology nurses in the country to support an estimated 1.7 million Australians with inflammatory arthritis.

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