Health on the open road
With an increasing number of Grey Nomads touring Australia and a rise in chronic disease in an ageing population, IHMRI and UOW researchers have taken a closer look at the importance of staying connected with medical services.
Until now, there has been little research into health management for travelling seniors.
Professor Elizabeth Halcomb, Dr Moira Stephens and PhD candidate Kaara Calma led a UOW team to find out more about this group.
The project involved an online survey and follow up phone interviews with people aged over 60 who travelled with a chronic condition.
“Many travellers chose to make the journey because they knew trips would begin to be less manageable as they aged or their illness worsened,” said Prof Halcomb.
Researchers found despite participants being well prepared for their trip the rural health system was at times lacking.
“Many towns don’t have electronic health records so patients can’t easily access treatment or scripts from local GPs,” said Prof Halcomb.
Researchers found significant health benefits of a getaway for people living with chronic conditions.
“It’s previously been suggested that Grey Nomads can put additional pressure on already vulnerable medical services in country towns but we found those taking part in the study were mostly well equipped and well prepared,” said Kaara Calma.
“One traveller had a smart phone for the trip and when it showed that her heart rate was going up she knew she had to call an ambulance to get to the hospital,” Ms Calma added.
Case study – Peter Cormack from Victoria
When Peter Cormack and his wife Karen sold up their home a few years ago they bought a caravan and hit the open road.
Peter has type 2 diabetes and knew that getting regular medication along the trip might prove tricky, so he made sure to travel with a letter from his endocrinologist.
“Some GPs won’t see new patients so you’d have to camp at a town longer than expected just so you could get an appointment. Some GPs would order testing to confirm the condition before writing a script,” said Peter.
It was at one of these appointments that a doctor in Dorrigo, on the NSW Northern Tablelands detected a black growth on Peter’s leg that he suspected was melanoma.
The suspect growth meant an extended stay in the area for follow up appointments.
The couple’s next stop was Casino in northern NSW, so Peter booked ahead for a biopsy but again they had to stay longer than anticipated to wait for results.
A few weeks later the melanoma was cut out in Brisbane and checked before the couple drove on to Dalby, Queensland where the stitches were removed.
“Each GP took the time to preview results from the previous doctor’s appointment so the whole process at each step took much longer than it should have,” said Peter.
“It would be so much easier if medical data was electronically linked. There’s a real failure of continuity throughout the health networks,” he added.
Peter says the delays mean some travellers are taking a risk by not getting medical check-ups when they should.
“They say it’s all too hard because they know it could take weeks to get an appointment with a new GP and they don’t want to have to stick around and wait in one town,” Peter said.
Peter says despite the inconvenience experienced by unlinked medical records, he says the trip overall improved his health and outlook on life.
“It was an opportunity to turn down that road you’ve always wanted to explore but never had the time,” said Peter.
Read the full article, published on 13 February 2018 in the Australian Journal of Primary Health.
Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator
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m: 0417 044 867
Top photo: IHMRI researchers Professor Elizabeth Halcomb, PhD candidate Kaara Calma and Dr Moira Stephens from UOW’s School of Nursing.
Photo by Mark Newsham.