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Telehealth is here to stay

THE telephone and video consults used by Hauora Tairawhiti doctors and the public during the lockdown are set to continue as an option in the future.

Known as telehealth or telemedicine, telephone and video appointments were used by staff and their patients during the Covid-19 pandemic to minimise contact between people and adhere to social-distancing guidelines, which posed unique challenges for healthcare.

Staff who have made use of modern technology these past two months include hospital specialists, physiotherapists, clinical nurse specialists, visiting specialists, speech language therapists and district nurses.

It was used where it was deemed safe and appropriate, and only if it worked for the patient and the staff member, said Dr Saralyn MacKenzie, a physician and clinical lead for Hauora Tairawhiti's Information Services Group.

“Most used telephone consultations as opposed to video for selected patients during the pandemic and it worked well for people requiring regular review and no examination.”

Dr MacKenzie said the pandemic occurred at a time when Hauora Tairawhiti was already looking at the possibility of offering telehealth options.

“Patients probably don't realise it, but many of us are already benefiting from advances in telehealth such as receiving appointment reminders via text.”

Some people may already be using telehealth tools to book appointments, request repeat prescriptions and view lab results online via apps offered by their general practice.  

“Telephone and video appointments are an extension to that, and the pandemic certainly indicated there is a place for them.”

Dr MacKenzie emphasised that telephone and video consultations are a tool meant to complement existing healthcare methods — not replace them.

Telephone and video appointments may not be appropriate for new patients, depending on the condition being addressed, or for patients with an urgent medical issue.

In time and where appropriate, telephone or video consultations may be offered to people who live a long way from the hospital or who have difficulty travelling, Hauora Tairawhiti chief executive Jim Green said.

“Covid-19 has created a paradigm shift, where a lot of people see this as a safe and OK way to receive healthcare.”

accessible health: David Williams was one of the people who have responded enthusiastically to zoom consultations with Speech-Language Therapist Biddy Robb. Picture supplied