With more and more New Zealanders across the country self-isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19, the role of telehealth services is in the spotlight now more than ever.
CareHQ Clinical Director, Dr Reza Jarral, said telehealth services like CareHQ can step up to fulfil non-COVID-related appointments that might otherwise be pushed back days or even weeks.
“The ways in which New Zealanders access healthcare have gone through significant changes since COVID-19 first reached our shores last year,” said Dr Jarral. “While health officials juggle existing COVID cases, more and more families are self-isolating at home in their bubbles, with numbers expected to rise in the coming months. Telehealth services will play an increasingly important role during such efforts.”
Dr Jarral said that as we learn to live with COVID in the community, there is potential for GP capacity to become stretched and even overwhelmed as the monitoring needs of housebound COVID patients grows.
“For many New Zealanders, consulting with a GP via telehealth is no longer an unusual concept,” said Dr Jarral. “With the traditional face-to-face GP visit not always possible during lockdown periods, a phone or video call with the doctor has been the only option available to many patients.
“Patients are also seeing the value of telehealth services outside of lockdowns. An online consult means they don’t have to leave the comfort of their own home if they’re feeling unwell. It also means they can access the healthcare they need in a timelier way, particularly when geography or doctors’ busy schedules pose barriers to getting seen.
The Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2020 revealed almost four-in-ten Kiwis take more than two days to access health treatment when feeling unwell and 10 per cent don’t seek any professional advice at all.
The reasons people gave for not accessing more timely healthcare included no one being available at the time they wanted (18 per cent), not having the time (11 per cent), the wait time being too long (11 per cent), not knowing who to go to (three per cent), having no way of getting to someone (two per cent) and having no health professional close to them (two per cent).
The increasing trend towards remote consults has echoed around the world amidst the pandemic, with an incredible surge in these services over the past 18 months.
Dr Jarral said that in its first year of operation, CareHQ has benefited many patients who may not have been able to see their own doctor when they wanted to.
“CareHQ has helped a broad range of patients in its first 12 months, from savvy ex-pats already well-versed in digital healthcare services that are well-established overseas, through to patients in rural areas where access to a GP can be limited. The number of patients using these services will no doubt climb again in 2022, as the health of more COVID cases are remotely monitored at home.”
If, as expected, increased pressure does land on general practices, Dr Jarral said telehealth services can step in to provide an excellent option for all New Zealanders to receive a high-quality medical assessment from an experienced GP.
“These services can also work closely with a patient’s regular GP, to deliver continuity of care while supporting grassroots primary care,” said Dr Jarral. “Telehealth services have already shown themselves to be a valuable tool for the health sector in 2021. These services are set to become even more essential in 2022, as the country continues to navigate the uncertainty that this pandemic brings.”
Launched in November 2020, CareHQ is a joint venture partnership between Southern Cross Health Insurance and ProCare.
Dr Reza Jarral is CareHQ's Clinical Director, an Edmund Hillary Fellow and an Auckland-based GP. Reza lectures at Tech Futures Lab and supports multilateral work in health and technology at the WHO, IEEE and the Impact Collective.
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