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GP MRI programme improving access to diagnostics and treatments in Southern

Tuesday 14 March 2023

GP MRI programme improving access to diagnostics and treatments

Patients with knee, lower (lumbar) or upper (cervical) spine have faster access to diagnostic imaging and treatments thanks to a new, ACC-funded programme supporting GPs to refer directly for MRI scans.

The Southern region GP-Referred MRI programme enables trained GPs to refer patients, who meet clinical criteria, for the high-tech imaging.

Queenstown GP and WellSouth Clinical Lead for the GP Referred MRI programme, Dr Richard Macharg, says the programme is a win-win-win: improving access to care for patients with these injuries, supporting the work of primary and secondary clinicians, and making optimal use of healthcare resources. 

“MRI is a valuable diagnostic tool and can help patients get access to timely and effective care,” he says. “With more information we can make better, immediate decisions about the right care pathway. That could be a rehabilitation, like physiotherapy, or indeed, referral to a specialist service such as Orthopaedics might be the right course of action. In those cases, having the MRI images at the first specialist appointment gives the specialist more clinical information and can help that appointment to be more useful.”

Queenstown GP and WellSouth Clinical Lead,
Dr Richard Macharg

Part of a national programme

There’ve been 230 MRI referrals since the programme got underway in Otago and Southland in mid-November. The initiative has rolled out elsewhere in New Zealand beginning in 2017/18 with a proof of concept pilot in Auckland in led by ProCare PHO.

WellSouth Primary Health Network is funded by ACC to deliver and manage the programme, with integrate health services provider Habit Health coordinating training. So far, more than 55% of GPs in Southern have trained to make the referrals and more undertaking training in the coming months. 

In other regions where the GP-MRI referral programme has been introduced, there’s been reduced MRI wait times and improved injury management, says ACC Health Partner Paul Abernethy.

“General practitioners in Southern have been really quick to get onboard  and we can expect to see many of the same benefits we’ve seen elsewhere, including a more integrated approach to care – bringing together community-based providers and specialist treatments with longer term management through general practice.”
WellSouth Chief Executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs says the GP-MRI programme is a welcome addition to provision of services delivered in general practice and is the kind of collaboration the health system needs:  “With the right resources, funding and training, more services can be delivered with the help of primary and community providers. Keeping patients and whānau as the priority, we want to help people access treatment and care faster and closer to where they live, while supporting and enabling health providers to work collaboratively.

“These are the principles at the heart of the localities approach to delivering health services and WellSouth wants to continue to support and enable advancements of this kind.”

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