The Covid-19 pandemic has brought sadness and pain globally: job loses, businesses closing, the high death toll in many parts of the world. The loss of family members, colleagues and friends is devastating for those affected, irrespective of the death toll of any given country.
One positive that has emerged is telehealth. In Australia telehealth was already available in certain regional areas: during the pandemic it has become widespread. The Guardian published a very good article from the perspective of the medical profession, “The genie is out of the bottle: telehealth points way for Australia post pandemic“. Here I present my perspective as a patient.
Telehealth is fantastic! Especially for me and I suspect for many other chronic illness patients who see a collection of doctors. Apart from the obvious Covid-19 related benefits of limiting unnecessary contact and thereby maintaining isolation, there are other benefits.
- Many chronic illnesses have a tendency to flare, meaning even without Covid-19 travel to and from a medical clinic can be an unpredictable physical challenge.
- In situations like my current one, awaiting total knee replacement surgery, the main focus has been pain management (I’m pretty healthy other than the knee). My GP has been wonderful, keeping in touch, ensuring I’m managing, reviewing the pain management plan, faxing prescriptions to the pharmacy when necessary.
- My endocrinologist really doesn’t do much with me physically during my visits – observations such as weight, blood pressure and temperature I can provide (although she didn’t ask – this may be an area where some practitioners have to develop a bit of patient trust!). Aside from my description of my health, in my case at this point, it is mostly blood test results that drive decision making, plus an annual ultrasound of my thyroid. Telehealth worked perfectly and saved my travel time, fuel and parking costs. She emailed me a pathology request for my next appointment in July.
- My psychologist used Zoom, which worked really well. Again, saved travel time, fuel and parking (although that parking location is free in my case). For me it was clinically no different to sitting in her rooms, yet I was in my slippers and had a coffee on hand!
- Hospital pre-admission appointment for surgery. Yes, my surgery is actually happening, next week! While I was to have a face-to-face appointment at the hospital to go through pre and post surgery planning and preparation when my surgery was originally booked for April 8 (then all surgeries were cancelled due to Covid-19), I had that appointment by phone yesterday. It worked well, everything was achieved as it would have been in a face-to-face appointment, including my being able to confirm I can take nail polish in with me to apply post-surgery.
- I can see benefits for working people too. A 15 minute phone consultation is a lot easier for a working person than taking several hours off work to go to the doctor. Let’s face it, it does take several hours: travel to the clinic can easily take 30 minutes or more, wait time (minimal if your doctor runs on time), consultation time, maybe a stop at a pharmacy, travel back to work depending on the time of day. I suggest most of us would not return to work after a 4 pm appointment, for example, or go to work before a 9 am appointment.
I have long-standing relationships with my doctors: I’m not sure I’d like to have an initial consultation with a new doctor by phone, although video conference may be fine. I’d prefer my GP and specialists used video and I think that will come in time.
Clearly telehealth doesn’t work for everything: my surgeon is not about to slice and dice me over the internet. The physician couldn’t do his pre-operative physical examination over the phone. I couldn’t get the ‘flu shot remotely.
For on-going management of existing conditions it works beautifully from this patient’s perspective.
There may be opportunities for people such as myself to assist patients with technology in their homes. I notice the article linked above mentions this:
Dr Chris Bollen, a GP in Adelaide who cares for many elderly people living in their own homes, has spent much time recently teaching patients to use FaceTime and other digital platforms. He is excited by the potential for telehealth to help support older people to live independently…
The article also points out that the current arrangements are planned to be temporary.
These temporary arrangements are due to end on 30 September, and the health minister Greg Hunt has flagged his support for their continuation, although many questions are yet to be answered about the rollout and impact of these services.
I hope teleheath stays. It also has environmental benefits which are discussed in the above article. It works for many situations, it is now proven. Let’s keep it.