As Dementia awareness week draws to a close and World Alzheimers Day is recognised on September 21 it is an opportune time to look at a partnership project between Hunter Medicare Local and the University of Newcastle.
The two organisations were successful in receiving a grant from the Department of Health and Ageing to undertake an Aged Care Nurse Practitioner Model of Practice project.
Helga Merl is the Nurse Practitioner working on this project and pioneering a new and innovative model of care called the “Mobile Memory Clinic” which is aimed at working with GPs and Practice Nurses to lift the low rates of dementia diagnosis within the Primary Care.
Australian GPs are as good as any in the world at identifying people at risk of dementia, identifying between 48-67% for mild dementia and 76 – 85% for moderate to severe dementia. Once identified diagnosing dementia is the real challenge. The nature of general practice means GPs lack the time and often the specialist knowledge necessary to diagnose dementia early. Consequently the delay from relaying symptoms to the GP to diagnosis is on average (in NSW) 37 months.
Early and timely diagnosis enables access to vital treatment and intervention strategies that can reduce the impact of the disease, at a time when the person retains decision making capacity and can actively participate in future life planning. Despite growing consumer and health sector demand for early and timely diagnosis, screening and diagnosis rates have not improved over the last 10 to 15 years
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are an emergent and extremely underutilised segment of the Australian health care system. Operating as Advance Practice Nurses and educated with Master degrees, these nurses undergo a rigorous Australian Health Practitioners Registration Authority endorsement process to enable best practice diagnosis and management of Dementia, they may attain authority to prescribe and provide reimbursable services under the Medicare Benefits Scheme. NPs provide high levels of patient care, health outcomes and satisfaction, on par with GPs .
Our Hunter ML NP “ Mobile Memory Clinic” is being evaluated by Canberra University as part of the national program in regards to its ability to Demonstrate effective, economical & sustainable Model of Practice; Facilitate the growth of the aged care NP workforce and Improve access to primary health care. The University of Newcastle is also evaluating the project.
Operational since May this year, the Mobile Memory Clinic accepts referrals from GPs, Practice Nurses, Connecting Care staff (via the GP) and Aboriginal Health staff primarily in the Port Stephens are for people at risk of Dementia. The NP Provides comprehensive health assessment, differential diagnosis and collaborative management plans. This project is paving the way for early and timely diagnosis which leads to better outcomes for people with Dementia, their carers and families and the primary care services that support them.
Photo above showssome happy customers from the Sturgeon Street Practice, Raymond Terrace which has referred around 20 patients. Practice Nurse Rose -middle back, Dr Guy Streeter Smith – back right and Odette – Practice Manager sitting.