By David Kavanagh Five hundred people have now benefited from a free WA health service designed to increase access to medical care for rural and remote Australians needing it most. Called Health Navigator and operated by the not-for-profit Silver Chain, the scheme aims to connect people living with chronic illnesses in country areas to medical practitioners across the state. It does this through the use of Telehealth communications technology such as phone and video conferencing. “Health Navigator … offers clients the opportunity to access self-management support from the comfort of their own home,” said Silver Chain Lead Chronic Disease Coordinator Jaclyn Geraghty. “It helps clients in rural and remote locations who have limited access to health services receive ongoing support without the need for travel.” According to the WA Department of Health, while rates of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are generally higher in rural areas, access to immediate medical care is harder to come by. The Department of Regional Development’s Joyce Gadalon said between 2007 and 2011, more than half the deaths of people in the Wheatbelt and Great Southern areas could have been avoided. “[The aim] is to shift the focus of healthcare away from the delivery of short term hospital services to the delivery of … services that target the prevention of diseases, promote good health and [manage] chronic health conditions,” she said. Health Navigator is part of the Department of Regional Development’s Southern Inland Health Initiative, a $565 million project promoting rural health and the largest of its kind in WA’s history. $36.5 million of this is being invested into the expansion of the Telehealth systems that Health Navigator relies on. The future will see more of this technology incorporated into existing infrastructure at sites like Fiona Stanley Hospital and Perth Children’s Hospital.