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Project Report

Internet tool box for rural GPs to access mental health services information

Submitted: 29 September 2008
Revised: 21 April 2009
Published: 19 June 2009

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Author(s) : Ollerenshaw A.

Citation: Ollerenshaw A.  Internet tool box for rural GPs to access mental health services information. Rural and Remote Health 9: 1094. (Online) 2009. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

Introduction: Rural GPs play a significant role in the mental health care of their patients. It is therefore crucial that they have access to reputable support and advice that enhances their existing knowledge. This article outlines a recent project initiated by the Australian rural Ballarat and District Division of General Practice (BDDGP) to develop and implement an online resource to facilitate local implementation and delivery of the ‘Better Access to Mental Health Care’ (BAMHC) program. This 12 month project was initiated in response to a request from local GPs for additional information about and support in using the BAMHC program. The project is the culmination of significant collaboration among key stakeholders that includes local GPs, GP advisors from BDDGP, BDDGP staff, and two University of Ballarat research centres (the Centre for Health Research and Practice, and the Centre for Electronic Commerce and Communication). This article documents the key stages involved in the project from initiation to implementation, and reports on the use of this resource 12 months after its launch.
Method: The BDDGP represents 107 GPs and six GP registrars and covers a large rural/semi-rural area of 7300 km2 and a catchment population of more than 120 000. The format and design of the project entailed four distinct but interrelated stages of development: (1) developing the program specifications and localising it to the BDDGP catchment; (2) constructing a decision-making support tool with 7 sequential steps comprising key questions and links to detailed answers; (3) developing and populating an online service directory of local allied health professionals; and (4) constructing the website for easy access and navigation for GPs and other service providers.
Results: The website was publicly launched in December 2007 and is hosted by BDDGP. Since then it has received strong support. In the 12 months since its launch the website received regular and continuous visits (2847 visits/11 500 pages accessed). In addition, anecdotal evidence and other feedback (positive comments; requested changes to entries in the service directory from allied mental health professionals) indicate that the website is being recognised as an important resource of and hub for local information relating to the BAMHC program for GPs and allied health professionals.
Conclusions: Integral to the website’s success and sustainability is the close and continued monitoring and updating of the information provided. A formal, longitudinal evaluation 18 months to 2 years after the website’s launch is recommended to provide a more rigorous assessment of the tool, and examine possible improvements. While the project does not address the problem of the supply of allied mental health providers in rural areas, it does provide assistance with responsive service system expansion and the provision of a localized tool for accessing appropriate information about mental health services.

Key words: Australia, Better Access to Mental Health Care, GPs, mental health, online.

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