Patient comes first at this crossroads town

Remote Katherine, the Northern Territory town known as the 'crossroads of the north', sees thousands of tourists arrive each year – and some of them are leaving with more than they bargained for.

Camping families, retirees in caravans, back-packers – even military families – are pleased to have been among the patients signed up for their My Health Record by Practice Manager Judy Spafford and her husband Dr Peter "PJ" Spafford.

"Leaving town with a portable health record is peace of mind for travellers," says Judy.

"We are 320km south-east of Darwin and more than 150,000 tourists a year come through Katherine," she said. "A lot are retired and on their way to seeing the rest of Australia. So they come along, generally older, fairly healthy, but a lot of them have a chronic disease or issues that need looking after."

"Many are one-off and they just need a script for medication. So if they have a My Health Record for us to access through the My Health Record system, it allows us to see what they have been prescribed by their usual GP, what their conditions are, and if there is else we need to do to ensure that patient remains healthy – this is just awesome.

"That is why PJ and I are so passionate about it. If I sense a patient is a tourist, I will just ask them straight out, and then I explain the My Health Record system to them and they think it's a great idea," she said.

Northern Territory Spafford eHealth Australia

The practice's passion for customer service – putting the patient first – has ensured the success of the new Katherine business they started in 2011.

Recognition was swift when in 2013 Dr Peter Spafford was honoured by the Northern Territory Medicare Local as Northern Territory's GP of the year. "I love improving the health of my patients and I love the variety of things we get to deal with," he said.

Judy said: "Our practice was one of the very first in the Territory to use digital health and we are both very proactive and passionate because we feel it is an important step toward the health of the nation."

She acknowledged that for a busy practice manager it took many hours to get up and running. "The amount of effort for the practice to be able to be digital health-enabled was in those days a lot of work. I believe it's easier now."

Judy said today the My Health Record system was just part of the day-to-day business.

"I say to other practitioners – ask yourself, why are you doing it? What is the purpose of becoming an electronic practice? Is it for your benefit or is it for the benefit of the patient?"

"At the end of the day it's for the benefit of the patient – to be able to deliver the most appropriate and best healthcare," she said.

Need help with implementing digital health and the My Health Record system in your practice? Call Customer Care on 1300 901 001 or email [email protected]

Correction: Wednesday 27 May 2015.

A previous version of this article, dated Wednesday 20 May 2015, incorrectly attributed the Northern Territory's GP of the Year Award 2013 to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACPG). It was awarded by Northern Territory Medicare Local.