201611-Jim-AvatarIt’s virtually a reality

Jim is an elderly Australian farmer with mild dementia. He’s also an avatar with 50 different verbal and non-verbal responses and lives entirely in his own virtual world. Even so, some Curtin University Psychology and Speech Pathology students think he’s better than the real thing when it comes to learning how to communicate with patients. A study led by Dr Janet Beilby investigated undergrads self-rated communication skills, knowledge, confidence and empathy. After 30 minutes with either a current nursing home patient, an older actor trained to portray an elderly patient or Avatar Jim, Jim got the thumbs up. He apparently presented a communication challenge and students thought that was more realistic. Students had to work harder to build rapport and empathy because they couldn’t use comforting cues. “We recently gave Jim an avatar wife, Moira. They live together in an independent unit in an aged-care facility. While Moira mostly placates Jim or pulls him into line, she can also pose other challenges for students – not only having to deal with a patient’s reaction, but also the reaction of the patient’s carer or loved one,” Janet said.

Revalidated and Disrupted

The hour-long member forum at the GP16 in Perth tackled the big issues of revalidation and digital disruption – an ambitious plan by anyone’s reckoning. The 30-minute digital discussion got bogged down in a 10-minute lamentation over the apparent phasing out of faxes, which left tech innovator and panellist Dr Marcus Tan a little bewildered. Yes, the profession has that far to go before it gets into coo-ee distance of the 21st century. Revalidation fared better. When MC Ali Moore asked WAGPET CEO Dr Janice Bell if she thought the Medical Board of Australia had made its case for revalidation her one-word answer – NO – brought the house down. The new College president Dr Bastian Seidel told the forum the College would work with the MBA on its revalidation quest but only to ensure common sense prevails. A no might be simpler.

Rural policies are working

“General practice is not the sewer for people who think they can get a job there if they can’t get a job anywhere else.” That was the gauntlet thrown down at the last Doctors Drum forum on doctor training. This sentiment appears to be confirmed by the news from WAGPET that of the 1500 positions advertised this year, 170 remain unfilled because there weren’t enough good applicants. It was better news at GP16 with the launch of a WAGPET commissioned report by Kim Snowball revealing that more specialists were heading bush (numbers up 25% from 2007). Sustained investment in education and training has been the driver along with Royalties for Regions money rebuilding and upgrading country hospitals. However, GP proceduralists remain the backbone of country medical services, the report said. Reliance on overseas recruitment has also fallen. In 2005, 70% of procedural doctors were recruited from overseas and in 2015 this had fallen to 45%. For the first time, locally trained doctors were making up the majority of new arrivals into rural practice.

Path labs handover

Ownership of 19 of St John of God Pathology’s laboratories and 180 collection centres in WA and Victoria transferred to Clinical Labs on October 10. SJG Health Care will hold a minority shareholding in Clinical Labs and CEO Dr Michael Stanford is on its board. The labs will operate under the SJG brand for up to 12 months until the company is fully integrated. Clinical Labs have a long-term contract with SJG hospitals for pathology services.


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