After more than thirty years without a local General Practitioner (GP), the community of Spring Ridge is rolling out the red carpet and celebrating the arrival of Dr Owen Boyd, Principal GP and Founder of Boyd Health.
In what can only be described as a whirlwind few weeks, Dr Boyd has secured his spot in Darby Street, partnering with local pharmacist, Chloe Kay, inside Spring Ridge Pharmacy.
“The Primary Health Network helped me to find this space very quickly and in the last month they sectioned off an area of the pharmacy to make a small doctors consultation room and Chloe has been great to work with the make that happen,” said Dr Boyd.
“I started seeing patients yesterday and I have had a very busy schedule of patients, and I am really enjoying meeting new people and meeting a need.”
The new service will provide two face-to-face consultations days a month, while providing telehealth for the remainder.
So why Spring Ridge?
Spring Ridge is a small town located on the Liverpool Plains with a population of 400 in the immediate township and over 10,000 when taking in surrounding towns.
Quirindi and Gunnedah provide the closest medical services, between 40 minutes to one hour away, who are suffering from their own doctor shortages and limited access.
“Jamie Chaffey, the Mayor of Gunnedah, asked me to have a look at the broader region a while ago and see if I can do anything,” said Dr Boyd.
“While relocating wasn’t possible, I started looking at telehealth and since December I have been delivering telehealth to the broader Hunter New England Region, with patients from Tenterfield to Coonabarabaran, across to Port Stephens, and anywhere in between.”
“That has worked well but I wanted a physical location, or a few of them, because you can only deliver so much medicine via telehealth and having a relationship in-person with patients matters, and being able to do things in-person is part of being a good general practitioner.”
The community has rallied behind the new doctor, enjoying the access to quality care at their doorstep.
“Gratitude and excitement are the two key emotions people are expressing to me, and it’s a nice thing that keeps you functioning in medicine and keeps you in it for the right reason,” said Dr Boyd.
“It is wonderful to have such wonderful feedback from the patients.”
While the telehealth model is a growing trend, Dr Boyd says nothing beats boots on the ground to provide adequate continuity of care.
“Telehealth is a fragmented space where patients are transient, whereas when you have a local presence, you have long-term ongoing relationships with patients which is the hallmark of quality general practice, so I wanted to deliver that local general practice complimented by telehealth.”
Co-located doctor and pharmacy
The partnership with Spring Ridge Pharmacy was all too easy with pharmacist Chloe Kay starting her venture at the same time Dr Boyd kicked off his telehealth in the region.
Ms Kay was previously a pharmacist in Coonabarabran before meeting her husband, Andrew, and moving to Spring Ridge to join him on the farm.
“In 2021 we had our son Billy and when I was looking to return to work the commute to Gunnedah or Tamworth didn’t really seem sustainable,” said Ms Kay.
“It was either change professions or open a pharmacy, and we decided it would be viable to open a pharmacy given the distance to the nearest pharmacy, and now we are here.”
Together, Ms Kay and her husband opened Spring Pharmacy in January 2023.
“It started off slow, but every week is getting more and more people, so it is going really well,” said Ms Kay.
“At first people were surprised and almost skeptical if this would be sustainable and work, but once they started utilising it and how convenient and valuable it is, everyone was very grateful and supportive.”
And that value has only grown with the new addition of a doctor.
“Yesterday and today are the first two days and the feedback has been really positive, not just because we have a GP, but he is really great and personable, and everyone is really happy about that,” said Chloe.
‘Luckiest Town in Australia’
For Spring Ridge Local, Jock Brownhill, at 31 years of age this is the first time he has known a doctor in town.
“I feel like we are one of the luckiest little communities in the whole of Australia to have a local doctor, and we thought we were lucky enough to have a pharmacy when it opened a few months ago,” said Jock.
“I hope everyone gets around it.”
Before Dr Boyd came to town Jock and his young family were required to travel over 100km to seek medical help but they are hoping that is in the past.
“I want to thank Dr Boyd for taking on the opportunity to come to our village and help us out,” said Jock.
Open for Business
Dr Boyd’s books are now open, and he is eager to deliver accessible and timely care.
“The idea is to see as many patients as possible, that choose to see me, but they will also have the opportunity to see me via telehealth when I am back home in Newcastle,” said Dr Boyd.
“Most patients that have seen me have told me about the challenges of getting in with the GP, and then if they do get in the travel time and the wait time.”
“Hopefully all of that will be a thing of the past for the patient on my books, because they will get quick access to quality care via the telehealth and then I will be here one to two days every month where I can catch up with the patient in-person if they need something.”
For Dr Boyd there are plans not to stop with just Spring Ridge but given the opportunity, to expand to other communities and with more doctors.
“My hope is other GP’s will hear of what I am doing and choose to come and work with me and do this because we all go to med school to serve people in need and there is a real opportunity on our doorstep for many GP’s to come and do something like I am doing,” said Dr Boyd.
“It would be very easy for GP’s that wanted to serve people in need to come and partner with me and come out here, so I would be happy to hear from any GP’s.”
Under the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network’s (HNECC PHN) Better
Health for the Bush, Small Town Engagement Model (BHFTB – STEM) the PHN has provided funding
to deliver a 12-month pilot for the hybrid General Practice telehealth service.
The programs future direction is to continue to source new co-located sites throughout the New England North West and build a networked model of care.
Top Image: L-R Annabelle Williams, Rural Health Access Manager from the HNECC PHN, Chloe Kay Spring Ridge Pharmacist, Dr Owen Boyd GP, Dr Alison Koschel Executive Manager HNECC PHN. (Supplied)
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