The world has stopped in many ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. The one thing that shouldn't stop is taking care of your health. If you are worried to step out of the house for the fear of contracting COVID-19, you can now see your doctor in the comfort of your own home. For vulnerable people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, lung conditions; or those over 70 years old, telehealth might be the answer.
Importantly, COVID-19 should not be a reason to avoid seeing the doctor for new health concerns or follow up management of existing conditions and medications.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth isn't new; doctors have been helping people in rural and remote communities for some time now. Instead of travelling to your medical appointments, you can consult with your doctor over the phone, or by using video conferencing using a smartphone or computer with a video camera (think Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom).
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare sector, including GPs, psychiatrists, specialists, and nurses, amongst others are rapidly changing the way they provide care while they ensure the safety of themselves, their staff and you, their patient.
Who should use it?
While telehealth is not the solution to all medical appointments, it can help in the following situations:
- To protect vulnerable people from contracting COVID-19 including,
- People with chronic health conditions
- People with weak immune systems (the immunocompromised)
- Follow up appointments where a physical examination is not needed
- Discussing the results of tests
- Ongoing prescription requests
- Mental health consultations or counselling
- Health professionals who continue providing consultations and need to self-isolate
There will be situations where the health professional will need to see you in person. Especially if a physical examination is required to diagnose or monitor a condition.
What will it cost?
In Australia, you can be bulk billed if you have a Commonwealth concession card, are a vulnerable patient or aged below 16 years old. You also need to have a Medicare card. For everyone else, ask your health professional if the consultation will be bulk billed, or if they charge a fee.
In New Zealand, the cost is the same as an equivalent in-person consultation.
How do I prepare for a telehealth appointment?
- Ask for a telephone or video consultation when you are booking a new appointment, or change an existing one to telehealth
- Confirm the cost
- You should receive instructions (either an internet link or a phone number to call) so that you can attend your telehealth consultation.
- Connect to your appointment at least 5 minutes earlier, especially if it is your first time
Importantly, be patient.
This process is new for everyone and expect the possibility of some delays or hurdles. At least you don’t have to travel!
What if I don't have a smartphone or computer?
Although a smartphone or computer helps you have a face-to-face video call from the comfort of your home, the consultation can still take place over the phone.
What if I must see a health professional in person?
Remember, if you need to see a health professional in person, all medical centres and hospitals will be following stringent safety procedures to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. You can read more on how to protect yourself from coronavirus here.
Do I have to visit the pharmacy to fill my prescription?
During your appointment, the doctor might need to prescribe a medicine for you. Like many things these days, your medication can be delivered to your home by your local pharmacy. If you’d like this, ask your doctor to send the prescription to your preferred pharmacy. Just check beforehand that your local pharmacy offers delivery and if they charge a fee.
In conclusion, during this COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare practices are rapidly moving to telehealth to protect themselves and the people that they serve. There's no better time than now to begin using phone and video calls for appointments, especially for vulnerable people with chronic health conditions or people over the age of 70.
There is no need to avoid seeing your health professional anymore!
- 1. Australian Government Department of Health. MBS changes Consumer fact sheet. Accessed April 14, 2020.
- 2. Bradford NK, Caffrey LJ, Smith AC. Telehealth services in rural and remote Australia: a systematic review of models of care and factors influencing success and sustainability. Rural and Remote Health 2016; 16: 3808: 1-23
- 3. NZ Telehealth Forum & Resource Centre: COVID-19 and Telehealth Provision for Health Providers. Accessed April 9, 2020.
- 4. Australian Government Department of Health. Environmental cleaning and disinfection principles for COVID-19. Accessed April 14, 2020
- 5. Australian Government Department of Health. National Health Plan Fact Sheet: A guide for prescribers. Accessed April 14, 2020
- 6. Australian Government Department of Health. National Health Plan Fact Sheet: A guide for pharmacists. Accessed April 14, 2020