Managing your health during the current pandemic is challenging, to say the least. The major concern is that underlying health needs are being ignored, and that’s why we are speaking with Dr Andrew Rochford from the Australian Digital Health Agency about why you should not put your health on hold.
John Deeks: Hello and welcome along to YourLifeChoices’ Mind Your Own Retirement podcast with co-hosts John Deeks and Kaye Fallick.
Kay Fallick: Joining us is Dr. Andrew Rochford from the Australian Digital Health Agency.
JD: So, Andrew what is the Australian digital health agency?
Andrew Rochford: The Australian Digital Health Agency is part of the federal government’s push to be able to start implementing a seamless connection between the digital world, our digital medical records, telehealth, and all those other great digital initiatives, and the real world or the fixed world of medicine and healthcare. Trying to create a system where they all flow together, and we create efficiency using digital technology.
KF: A lot of people are saying that the current COVID pandemic has fast forwarded most of us by about 10 years in terms of how we do things.
AR: Yeah absolutely, could we ever have imagined how many times we’d be doing Zoom calls or using skype just to connect with family and friends?
AR: We’re seeing the same occur in the medical world and especially during periods where people are under forced lock down or in isolation but needing to maintain that connection with their health care provider. What we’ve seen is a significant increase in the number of people using telehealth to connect with not only their GP, but also their specialist doctors to be able to continue to look after their own health while also protecting themselves by not necessarily wanting to go in waiting in GP clinics or in hospitals obviously because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has fast forwarded everything in the medical world when it comes to people using digital health which is exciting.
KF: It’s exciting but is it correct that there’s been a bit of a drop off in people having regular medical checks?
AR: Well that’s the flip side, I guess that whole idea of not putting your health on hold is that we need to be careful that we don’t avoid doctors, we don’t avoid hospitals and those very important appointments because we are too concerned with COVID-19. We have seen that drop off. I work in an emergency department in Sydney, so very fortunate not to be in Melbourne at that moment, but during that early stage we had a significant amount of people not showing up, so it was quiet. And the problem with that is when things started to get back to normal what we started to see was a lot of people showing up with conditions, whether chronic conditions or whether they are acute problems, that they’d left on hold so when they finally got to us they were a lot sicker. So I guess the key is we’re not necessarily encouraging people to put themselves at risk by going out or breaking any of the restrictions that are in place, but what we are saying is that you need to make sure that you continue to look after your health.
JD: How can our members interact with the new technology?
AR: There are a few ways to do it. One of the ways to inform yourself is to go to the Australian Digital Health Agency website. There are some really great resources that talk you through different aspects of how you can use digital technology to stay on top of your health. It is a lot of the time just as simple as actually calling your GP and talking to them about what systems they have in place now that might be different to before. A lot of the time it’s just about booking an appointment and then they will tell you how they want to connect at that certain time and then you will end up doing a virtual consultation over a secure platform or even over the phone doing a teleconsultation to be able to maintain that ongoing management of your healthcare. We’re even seeing specialists doing appointment via digital access. A lot of time it is just talking to your GP, going online, going to the digital health agency to get those resources, and also looking at other things like electronic prescriptions, the use of My Health Record. There are a lot of resources out there that people can make a part of their regular healthcare.
KF: So the answer I am hearing here, Andrew, is that it’s not some kind of ridiculous new technology where people think ‘oh my god I’ve got to learn something here’. The starting point is to ring your GP or your doctor, and let them tell you how they’re managing telehealth.
AR: Absolutely, it makes no sense for us to start to try to implement a lot of scary new technologies that a lot of people may not fully understand. That just doesn’t work. The technology could be as simple as just setting up a time to have a phone conversation, that falls under the Medicare scheme when it comes to a teleconsultation that can be bulk billed. It’s about talking to your doctor or your GP about that. It’s the same when it comes to mental health services. We see a huge need for people to not forget about their mental health and to reach out and to look for online services to connect with professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, and really start to use those services to again engage in looking after their mental health just as much as looking after their physical health.
KF: So, another question Andrew, pre-COVID we were told that the mental health system was under a lot of strain, and often it was difficult for people to get mental health professionals. For people using mental telehealth, whether its phone or computer, is there a backup there for people reaching out?
AR: Yeah I think that’s the big issue that we are going to continue to see is that it was a system that was already under strain and it’s a system now that is under even more strain. We are starting to see the ability for people to create efficiency, so when any system is under strain it’s about trying to find those efficiencies. If you can be connecting with a health care professional by digital technology there’s a lot of efficiency around that the use of the professional’s time so they’re in one spot they’re not travelling around they have got the ability to use their services and their skills as efficiently as possible and for you being able to connect from the comfort of your home also reduces the impact that it has on your life. So as much as we need to see more services and there’s some really great platforms out there, the My Mirror platform, you can go and google My Mirror, they provide the access to people to get a health care plan and connect to a psychiatrist or psychologist. I think it’s about seeing more of those services creating that link between our mental health expert and all of us because I don’t think there’s many people right now who couldn’t benefit from taking a bit of time to look after their mental health, it’s been a strain for all of us.
JD: The government has increased the mental health plan, I saw on the news the amount of contacts you can have with a mental health professional has increased so that’s good news as well.
AR: Yeah absolutely, and we need to see more of that, we need to see investment into that mental health space because we are going to need more in the future.
KF: So is it important also for people who are living with people who have mental health issues for some encouragement to be put forward for them to understand that help is probably easier than they thought it was?
AR: Absolutely, when it comes to mental health it’s a near impossible challenge to try to help yourself manage in that space when you find yourself needing help. I think it’s important for us to ask for help, ask those around us that we trust, ask both the health care professionals we know and also our family and our friends. But the flip side is we need to be willing to offer help and encouragement and support and being in a position where it might just take that little extra to help somebody to take the first step online or digitally to connect with a professional that way. Because not only is it daunting to reach out and get the services you require to look after your mental health, it’s even more daunting now in a new world where we are trying to navigate the use of different technologies with different access points. What I can guarantee you is after you’ve done it once it becomes something that feels a lot more comfortable and a lot easier, you’ll find yourself thinking ‘why haven’t I used this in the past?’ and I think that being there to help those that we care about, that might be struggling, to connect via that platform it can be the difference between really saving somebody and not. And that’s the reality of mental health, so we really need to look out for each other.
KF: So, it’s the old ‘are you okay mate?’ but on a broader health level. Andrew, we could summarise by saying health checks remain as important as ever and when our members listen to this, maybe they just want to have a quick think about how long since they’ve been in touch with a medical professional and do they need to reactivate.
JD: Andrew thank you so much for giving up your time today, we do appreciate it and it encourage people to get online, the links again Kaye.
KF: https://www.digitalhealth.gov.au/ but entry point your local GP.
JD: Dr. Andrew thank you so much indeed for your time.