Mt Wilga Private Hospital’s revolutionary treatment of lymphoedema has been recognised by winning the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) Awards for Excellence, Clinical Excellence category.
The hospital’s CEO, Lorrie Mohsen, said she was “so proud” of her team.
“The lymphoedema program we have is one of a kind in Australia, it’s unique,” she said.
“It’s challenging work and it’s labour intensive. But our staff are so dedicated and I’m so proud, they’re all just outstanding.”
The lymphoedema rehabilitation program was established in 1992 by Dr Helen Mackie and since then has continually evolved to offer shorter hospital stays and better management of patients suffering from the chronic condition.
“It’s quite a niche area, and there’s limited resources for this in the public sector, so it’s not like other treatment programs where we, as a private hospital, are offering an alternative to patients,” Ms Mohsen said.
“Part of our program has been growing our own expertise, so we have a focus on training practitioners as well.”
The team at Mt Wilga take a multidisciplinary approach to treating lymphoedema, a lifelong chronic condition that has no cure.
“When our patients used to come in, it was for a four-week program, and we’ve got that down to two weeks,” Ms Mohsen said.
“Part of that is that our patients now also see a range of other health professionals including a dietician, an exercise physiologist, if appropriate they might also do some hydrotherapy – we take a wide clinical approach.
“We also have trained wound care specialists here and we have trained our lymphoedema therapists in wound care as well, and the outcomes for patients have been fantastic.
“The team also teaches patients to self-manage their condition. We’ve introduced wraps that they can maintain themselves, while they wait for their unique, specially designed compression garments to arrive.”
Lymphoedema is characterised by swelling due to a blockage in the lymphatic system.
This can occur in a single limb, multi-limbs or even the whole body, which can cause significant morbidity and loss of function for those affected by the condition.
“It’s painful and debilitating and it’s also hugely underdiagnosed,” Ms Mohsen said.
“Our patient stories are so powerful, we have people who come in and say, ‘oh I was told, I was just obese, or ‘I thought there was nothing I could do about the swelling and it was normal to have one limb larger than the other after surgery’.
“It can take years to get a diagnosis.”
Lymphoedema may be associated with surgical trauma, particularly for breast cancer patients.
“We find that the treatment for breast cancer is so advanced, in the public and private systems, so looking for lymphoedema is part of the cancer care now,” Ms Mohsen said.
“However, we have women here who had their mastectomy 10 or 20 years ago, now coming in for lymphoedema treatment.”
Ms Mohsen said the team at Mt Wilga were focussing on training other lymphoedema treatment specialists, in the hope of expanding the clinic and its program to other Ramsay Health Care hospitals.
“There are some hurdles for introducing new lymphoedema clinics,” she said.
“It’s not recognised by health funds as its own rehabilitation program, so we’ve had to put in for funding with various health funds – it’s been a challenge.
“Last year we were awarded by the Lymphatic Education & Research Network as a Centre of Excellence and we aim to maintain that accreditation, as well as advocate for lymphoedema patients, and help expand this program to improve access for patients.”
APHA CEO, Michael Roff, said this year’s awards were “particularly noteworthy” given COVID-19 pressures, staff shortages and helping the public system with the pandemic response.
“The standouts in Mt Wilga’s submission are the multidisciplinary approach and the fact that the patients spend less time in hospital,” he said.
“The application of the model to other facilities is a huge plus.”
Due to the uniqueness of the program, patients regularly attend from interstate and overseas to receive care at Mt Wilga Private Hospital.
“Our patients come in every six months, or once a year, and our staff are so dedicated to them,” Ms Mohsen said.
“It’s a tricky population to treat, but our team are amazing, and I’m so pleased to see the hard work of everyone involved be recognised in this award.”
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