How our doctors look after patients in the after hours.

Whenever somebody asks me what the best thing about working as a Home Doctor, I have to stop and think. How can I explain the rewarding nature of the job? Firstly, the interesting clinical side, and the challenge of dealing with acute conditions, makes it very professionally rewarding. But more rewarding still are the patients, who are so grateful for the service we provide.

I have spoken to our doctors all around the country, and I constantly get that same feedback. The best part of our job is how appreciated we are!

Acute, episodic illness 

As we all know, illness can strike at any time, and especially in those most vulnerable, the very young children and the elderly. And when it’s late at night or on the weekend, with your family GP long gone home, it can be a real worry if you don’t have a doctor you can turn to. Of course, there’s always the hospital, but the Emergency Room at the hospital is meant to be for life-threatening emergencies. Our service is designed to bridge the “gap” when you need urgent medical care, your GP is closed, but it’s not so serious you need to rush to hospital.

Home visits

Home visits are not a new idea. In fact, many years ago, most doctors would visit patients at home, often after a busy day at the surgery, to check on little babies or frail grandmothers or bedridden mums and dads. In those days they were called house calls, and those of us of a certain generation will remember them well. Today, with 13SICK, National Home Doctor Service, with a national number to call, and a team that works overnight to match up doctors with patients, we have modernised the old-fashioned house call and created a service accessible to millions of Australians.

Grateful patients

It is amazing how grateful patients are when you visit them in the after hours. Parents, carers and partners, calling for themselves or a loved one, are usually worried and anxious about an illness or injury that really needs urgent medical attention. Along with their specialised clinical skills, our doctors are well-trained in the time-honoured skill of the “bedside manner” – lending a sympathetic ear, and calming anxieties the parent or caregiver may have.

Urgent medical care

Our doctors are on the road all night and on weekends, when GP Practices are closed, treating a myriad of urgent episodic illnesses. These are the kind of things that can’t wait until the next day, or the end of the weekend, but at the same time don’t warrant a visit to Emergency. Acute respiratory illnesses are top of the list, such as influenza, bronchiolitis, croup, and nasty viral infections. Then there are patients with asthma or chronic respiratory disease, or patients with gastro. 

 You can read more about the most common reasons patients call us here.

Diagnosis and treatment

Our doctors will examine the patient, asking as many questions as necessary to help form a diagnosis. The doctor may recommend treatment, or suggest some effective remedies, or recommend further tests and follow up with your GP. The doctor carries starter packs of many medications so if necessary you can get started on treatment straight away.

Keeping your regular GP in the loop

After the consultation, we send a clinical report to your regular GP, so they are kept in the loop. That way, if you need to visit your doctor for a follow up, they will know when you were seen and what, if any, treatment was recommended. Having a regular GP that you know and trust is very important for your ongoing health care, so please remember to have those details handy when you book with 13SICK.

Waiting times

One of the difficult parts of our job is estimating how long our doctors are going to be. It is always difficult to tell how long each consultation will be, and aside from that, distances, traffic and weather can play their part to cause delays. Our call centre usually errs on the side of caution when they estimate when the doctor will arrive, which is why we instituted the SMS system to give you a more concrete arrival time. Please be patient with our doctors, as they work very hard to see everyone who calls.

Tell us what you think

We welcome feedback from our patients about their experiences with 13SICK. I am pleased to say that overwhelmingly our patients share their stories of wonderful doctors and excellent service. Sometimes we get negative feedback, which is inevitable, but we work hard to address any problems and respond to criticism quickly.

 When you’re worried sick…

 The reason I love the work we do is that we help people in their hour of need. They are worried sick about themselves or a loved one, and don’t know where to turn. The next time you are in that situation, call or click 13SICK. Not only we doctors, but the operators, the dispatchers, the drivers, and the administration behind the scenes, are all working to take that worry away.

Dr Umberto Russo MBBS (Adelaide) FRACGP is Chief Medical Officer at 13SICK, National Home Doctor Service. He has more than 25 years' experience both as both a General Practitioner and a visiting home doctor, with a special interest in urgent medical care.


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