Last Sunday I flew to Alice Springs, a small town that is one of the larger cities in the Australian Outback, and best known to foreigners as a jumping off point to get to Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) and some of the other rock formations around there.
There are things to do there, but it’s pretty dead on a Sunday afternoon. I was excited about going to the Royal Flying Doctor information center, which fortunately was open. It’s pretty pricey ($15 Australian) but the money goes to a good cause, and if you’re interested in the Royal Flying Doctor service, where else are you going to get the experience? Also, should anything drastic happen to someone in the Outback, the RFDS are the clinicians who are going to take care of you, and I was about to head out on an overnight Outback camping trip!
The Royal Flying Doctor service provides primary care to people living scattered across the Outback. (To give you an idea of size, I’ve been told there is one farm – I think a cattle ranch – the size of Belgium.) This includes farmers and Aboriginal groups. They also, famously, provide emergency call out care and can provide a couple of ICU-level beds (or a NICU bed) in the airplane itself. It was a revolutionary concept when it was thought of. (If I remember correctly, in the first World War, though it took years to form it). Today it also acts as a medical transport service for patients going from an urban area to a state capital (for example transporting an organ recipient to the hospital the organ arrived at where the surgery will occur).
The museum has a short video presentation about the RFDS and then you can see a replica of their current plane, versions of their old radios (when they originally started the RFDS, communication was a problem until a pedal radio was invented), and old and current medical boxes. Even today, medical boxes are left in specific locations with each item numbered. Doctors will communicate with patients and tell them what emergency care to provide by speaking to the patient or caregiver and telling them which medication or procedure to follow based on the number on the label on the item in the box.
It’s an early form of telemedicine that I can’t imagine being routinely practiced in the US, though maybe we are getting there. (And in all fairness, maybe something similar that exists in the US that I don’t know about, but there has certainly been a lot of concern around regulating telemedicine in the US.)
I had been told by an Australian on my airport shuttle bus not to go out alone after dark in Alice Springs, and I had an early day the following day, so I just had a picnic dinner in my room. I didn’t actually particularly want to wander anyway. The locals sat out on Todd Mall – the main (tourist?) drag and watched the passersby. The steady gaze of so many people sitting the grass or curb was a little disconcerting!