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Priority line to support GPs and their CALD patients


Morgan Liotta


20/10/2021 3:54:30 PM

The service connects people who speak a language other than English with interpreters and gives special access to the National Coronavirus Helpline. 

Woman speaking through hands-free telephone set
Using interpreting services through the coronavirus helpline will assist GPs in caring for the CALD community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased barriers to healthcare, particularly for patients from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds who may have low proficiency of English.
 
In an effort to further support GPs providing care to CALD patients, the Department of Health (DoH) has given priority access to the National Coronavirus Hotline through Translating and Interpreting Services (TIS). TIS provides free access to interpreters and now has priority access to the 24-hour hotline which is staffed by nurses.
 
The patient calls, states their language, and are then linked with an interpreter who is given priority access to the hotline. According to the DoH, the average wait time for people utilising this service is less than one minute.
 
GP and RACGP representative on the DoH CALD COVID-19 advisory group Dr Kate Walker told newsGP that working with accredited interpreters is ‘an essential part’ of GPs’ care of patients with low English proficiency.
 
‘This is [especially] critical during the COVID-19 pandemic to explain concerns about vaccinations … testing, isolation and quarantine and for the care of COVID-positive patients,’ she said.
 
‘It is particularly important in assessing and explaining what to do if patients develop serious symptoms that indicate patients with COVID-19 are deteriorating and where to go for help.’ 
 
Dr Walker said pre-existing and pandemic-related barriers to healthcare access have led to lower vaccination rates in some groups, and possibly increased the incidence of COVID-19 infections, although she noted the data is still pending.
 
‘Barriers to accessing care for patients with low English proficiency who are unwell with COVID-19 makes them potentially at greater risk of death,’ Dr Walker said.
 
‘Making the coronavirus helpline a priority through TIS for patients who need interpreters will assist GPs in caring for the CALD community during this very busy time.
 
‘I encourage GPs to share this resource with their CALD patients.’
 
The service is accessed by TIS interpreters via a priority phone number that is not available to members of the public. The DoH indicates the average call duration is between two and three times that of the general line (10−16 minutes), and between 23−29 September 2021, 171 people accessed the service.
 
Call takers provide COVID-19 information and support callers to book their vaccination appointment by providing step-by-step assistance, including general questions about restrictions or travel advice.
 
For those callers requiring clinical information, they are escalated to priority clinical support via the TIS interpreters.
 
‘The health-related enquires are answered by a nurse who can discuss common side effects from vaccines and triage if they need further assessment,’ Dr Walker said.
 
‘They can advise patients when and where to get tested for COVID-19 and how to organise home-based testing if this is needed.
 
‘If unwell COVID-positive patients need advice after hours they can ring the hotline, if they are deteriorating, they will be advised to ring an ambulance.’ 
 
Translated audio, video and written information can also be sent to patients after the call by SMS in their language if they wish to receive further information, including jurisdictional translated materials.
 
In addition to the priority lines implemented to support CALD populations, as well as residential aged care facility workers, the DoH is exploring opportunities to offer the service to other priority groups.
 
The DoH also has a COVID-19 resource page with audio, video, pictorial and written information in different languages for CALD populations.
 
Meanwhile, the RACGP has launched its own campaign to encourage people to see their GP, as well as resources for GPs using telehealth with their CALD patients, following advice to use interpreters when necessary.
 
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