As flu season approaches, a Havelock North practice is to use its experience during the 2016 campylobacter outbreak to help cope with any surge in patient numbers in the weeks ahead.
Te Mata Peak Practice (TMPP) was one of the practices at the front line of dealing with people who became ill after the water contamination.
This meant it was uniquely placed to run this pilot, which if successful could be rolled out across the region in future.
TMPP general practitioner Dr Peter Culham said Hawke's Bay health officials were expecting a surge in winter flu cases after communities in the northern hemisphere were severely affected by the flu strain known as H3N2 (Aussie flu).
Having coped with fielding more than 2000 phone calls during the campylobacter outbreak, TMPP staff were uniquely placed to use the same methods when dealing with the high numbers of people potentially suffering with the flu, Culham said.
From June 18, people calling the practice with suspected flu would be offered a telephone call-back service, rather than an appointment in the first instance.
Traditional face-to-face consultations would still be available if deemed appropriate or specifically requested.
"Over-the-telephone assessments will be familiar to many of our patients because it was how we managed during the 2016 campylobacter flu outbreak," said Culham.
"The telephone consultation will be used to make the diagnosis of flu, to assess its severity and the individual level of support at home and also the risk of developing any secondary problems.
"Those with flu but doing okay will be followed by phone, whereas the more severely affected - those home alone or more at risk, will be offered a mobile nursing service."
Culham said influenza and campylobacter had several features in common, and identifying and targeting the severely affected and those most at risk was very important.
"They both last up to a week, they both cause severe symptoms which make sitting in a waiting room unappealing and treatment is largely supportive care.
"Influenza is also highly contagious, so keeping people at home and isolated is helpful for the community as a whole," he said.
The pilot is being supported by the Hawke's Bay District Health Board and Health Hawke's Bay, with the potential to be used in other practices in the region.
DHB director of primary care Chris Ash said it was hoped the pilot would provide a safe and cost-effective way of managing the expected winter flu surge, by supporting people to get better at home and limiting the effect on hospital services.
The DHB would provide community nurses to offer in-home assessment, treatment and support, in conjunction with Te Mata Peak Practice.
TMPP practice manager Belinda Urquhart said part of the aim of the pilot was also to keep staff as well as possible throughout the flu season.