Newly announced telehealth measures ensure that Australians in self-isolation have access to doctors without leaving home.
Telehealth, medical and mental health services delivered by telephone or video conferencing apps on phones, tablets or computers, offers safety and convenience. For years, it’s been the next frontier in medical care, about to revolutionise the provision of services for patients and practitioners. At a time when COVID-19 means doctors and nurses are at heightened risk and patients have been ordered to keep their distance from others, it might seem a godsend.
But old habits die hard, and telehealth in Australia has been slow to reach expected levels.
Now that there’s little choice but to embrace it, here are some hints on how to ‘do’ video telehealth.
This is new territory for many practices as well as patients, and many (overworked) clinics do not have updated information about telehealth services on their websites. Some are not yet up to speed with video conferencing. The pace of uptake will differ clinic by clinic. Call first, find out the platform the doctors use and any forms you need to complete.
Once you’ve found a clinic ready for a video call, check your internet connection is reliable, choose your preferred device – phone, tablet or computer – download the relevant app and make sure you’re comfortable with how it works. Coronavirus isolation gives you a chance to test it on family and friends. If there are rules and sign-up protocols, get them done before your consultation. Fill out the forms when you’re well; don’t wait until you’re sick.
Have everything you need
Next, make sure you have everything the doctor needs. Your medical history, current symptoms, recent test results and details of your medicines should be close at hand. You can even bring the bottles up to the camera to give your doctor a close-up.
Know what you want from the consultation: Compile a list of questions for your doctor, most important issues first. Ask about follow-up visits. Confirm the pharmacy where any medications prescribed during the video feed will be sent. Make sure the doctor gets the full picture of your condition, so you get specific medicines and tests you may need.
If you have a more serious injury or illness, inform your doctor of any symptoms you can measure, such as temperature and heart rate. Let them know about any measures you have taken yourself, and their outcome. If you’re advised to stay at home, ask what the follow-up plan is and what symptoms you should watch for in case further treatment is required.
Many doctors are new to extensive use of communications technology and will be as new to it as you. Treat them like a fellow newcomer. Be kind. Telehealth consultations have been considered a good option for minor, temporary ailments. Although more conditions may now be dealt with remotely, remember that serious conditions with more severe symptoms will most likely require a visit to the clinic.
If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus, you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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