Editorial: To the future via Gore

Last updated 05:00 16/02/2013

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OPINION: Country troubadour Dusty Spittle, if we recall correctly, borrowed the famous Tipperary tune to release a late-1980s protest song, It's A Long Way to Invercargill .

This was when Eastern Southlanders were fighting hard as hell to retain services at Seddon Memorial Hospital. They were alarmed about centralisation of services in Invercargill leading to the tyranny of distance and isolation.

Such concerns are still liable to arise, and rightly so, most recently when southerners rallied to retain neurosurgery in Dunedin. But it needn't always be that way. Connectivities can triumph.

Eventually, Seddon Memorial did close, but backwater status did not await Gore. Far, far from it. Gore Hospital, run by locally governed company Gore Health, filled the breach in 1999. Increasingly, that impressive outfit is at the cutting edge, no pun intended, of rural health care.

What reaction, we wonder, might former Southland Area Health Board chairman Lance Blaikie have receive when he stumped up to face those large, angry Gore crowds if he had predicted that within 25 years they would have robots to test their blood pressure and heart rate?

That health bots would come out into their homes and rest homes to help people with memory and speech difficulties to communicate?

That video conferencing between patients, nurses and doctors would offer remote consultation?

That as health care increasingly extended to people in their community rather than in hospitals, district nursing teams would have immediate electronic access to up-to-date, and to update, patient records during their visits?

That electronic "e-CHAT" devices would provide screening in waiting rooms as research showed people were not only becoming more comfortable with technology but were liable to be more honest with it than with people when it comes to disclosing potentially sensitive or confrontational topics such as gambling and drinking. (Turns out it's one thing to trust your flesh-and-blood medico won't judge you, but for some of us the prospect of raising the whole awkward matter with a gizmo beforehand might seem a pleasingly impersonal alternative).

And how might those protest crowds have reacted had Mr Blaikie assured them that all of this would happen for them several years in advance of the rest of the country?

No, even if he had foreseen all that, he would probably have been wise to keep his reassurances to himself because, seriously, who would have believed him?

But so it has proven. It is greatly to Gore Hospital and Gore Health's credit that such a raft of national trials of technological advances through robots, tablet devices, and video conferencing are either already under way or coming up with the March 11 opening of the town's Centre for Rural Health Development.

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This wasn't a matter of receiving favours from the medical or political hierarchy. Medical staff and administrators have to impress their way into that sort of Ministry of Health benediction. They have to be seen to embrace it and give it the best chance of working.

Does it make Eastern Southlanders guinea pigs? To some extent, sure, but the indications have to be promising indeed for trials to reach this stage and feedback to the innovations already in place does appear to have been good.

Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks is right to say the project shows innovation and courage, and that it indicates you don't have to be in a large population centre to be a world leader.

Nice, too, that this so neatly skewers a few of the more stereotypical views of Gore.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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