Residents in and around a remote outback town have celebrated the opening of an unstaffed centre that will offer a 24/7 telehealth service backed by the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS).

Located about 860 kilometres north of Adelaide and 850km south-east of Alice Springs, the remote town of William Creek has a permanent population of less than 20.

But more than 26,000 tourists pass through the town every year to travel the nearby Oodnadatta Track or see Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre from the air.

Until now, residents on surrounding stations had to receive routine care like pap smears from fly-in teams at the William Creek Hotel and there was no place for people to seek emergency medical care.

In an Australian-first initiative, a new $2 million facility, co-funded by the federal government and RFDS and opened on Friday, will provide around-the-clock medical attention via telehealth to the outback community.

Kirsty Williams and her 10-year-old son George welcomed the new health service.(ABC North and West: Isabella Carbone)

The Williams family has lived on Peake Station, about 100 kilometres from William Creek, for three years.

Kirsty Williams said the RFDS was a “lifeline” and hoped the new William Creek Community Health Service would help future-proof the town by providing high quality medical attention instantly in the outback.

“William Creek’s not a very big town, and we’re a long way from anywhere,” she said.

“But for locals, it’s incredible. For tourists coming through the area, it’s a game changer, really.”

Peake Station resident George Williams tried out the new telehealth hub on Friday.(ABC North and West: Isabella Carbone)

How it works

Those seeking healthcare attend the unstaffed clinic and are connected with a doctor in Port Augusta or Adelaide via video link.

Patients can self-administer tests to check blood pressure or oxygen levels and run an electrocardiogram (ECG), with results live-streamed to the healthcare workers communicating with them.

Users can then wait in the medical facility until an RFDS plane lands on the airstrip directly next to the building.

The service will connect remote patients with a healthcare worker in Adelaide or Port Augusta.(ABC North and West: Isabella Carbone)

As well as 24/7 emergency medicine, two consulting rooms will facilitate fortnightly visits from dental or allied healthcare workers.

RFDS SA/NT central operations chief executive Tony Vaughan said while they ran staffed clinics elsewhere in the state, the William Creek service was the first of its kind. 

“What this does is connect people to a doctor immediately,” he said.

“It adds a level of comfort for people to be able to come and have a consultation in private and at a level that people would expect in a regional city.”

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler says the government will look to learn from the nation-first service.(ABC North and West: Isabella Carbone)

Future hopes

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said the government would monitor the results from the clinic to determine whether the model of care could be rolled out elsewhere.

“Innovations like this need to be evaluated. The Commonwealth has put $1 million along with the RFDS into this and we want to make sure we get the best value for taxpayers,” he said.

“Not just for the community of William Creek and the thousands of tourists who come through here, but learn from this and see whether we can replicate it around other outback centres.”

Mr Vaughan said they were in the early stages of conversation with governments for establishing similar initiatives elsewhere in the state. 

Station workers and families visited from hundreds of kilometres away to check out the new facility.(ABC North and West: Isabella Carbone)