Pathway to better treatment

A DIAGNOSIS of multiple sclerosis took Dubbo's Joy Butcher back to the days when she drove to and from Sydney regularly to get treatment for a son with cerebral palsy.

The 53-year-old mother would dream of winning Lotto to pay for accommodation in Sydney for country people in her situation.

It never happened, but Mrs Butcher cannot help but feel lucky right now.

Her pathway to specialist treatment is much easier thanks to a collaboration involving the University of Sydney's School of Rural Health at Dubbo.

Recently she made the 10-minute drive from her home to the school in Moran Drive for an hour's consultation with Dr Michael Barnett, leading multiple sclerosis (MS) neurologist and researcher at the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI).

He reviewed her test results, answered questions and observed her movement, all from a dedicated telemedicine room at the BMRI, more than 400 kilometres away.

Mrs Butcher could not be happier that necessary medical attention has come to her by way of teleconference audiovisual technology.

"It's so much better and not just for people in Dubbo," she said.

"We think it's hard to go to Sydney but think of the people travelling from further out in the region."

Dr Barnett and his colleagues at the BMRI were acutely conscious of the difficulties faced by MS sufferers in regional, rural and remote areas in accessing treatment when setting up the new facility.

About 20,000 Australians have MS and neurologists are in short supply.

"There are currently no subspecialty multidisciplinary MS clinics in rural areas," Dr Barnett said.

"We felt it was important to establish some way of providing timely and accessible care to patients with MS in rural areas."

The School of Rural Health has provided the space and technology for the remote access clinic that is run by the BMRI.

It will support the teaching of rurally-based junior doctors and medical students, while improving quality of life for people with MS and other neurological diseases who often find travel to be physically and mentally exhausting, if not unaffordable.

After one consultation, Mrs Butcher is a convert to telemedicine.

"It saves you time and stress and takes just a little out of your day," she said.

"Whereas it's a major production going to Sydney."

kim.bartley@ruralpress.com

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