The rapid directive for general practices to move to virtual consultations during the strictest Alert level of Covid-19 has resulted in many patients becoming converts to the new way of seeing their GP.
Practices who had to switch to video or telephone consultations literally overnight during Level 4, are now starting to see the benefits of the rapid change required to set up systems to deliver secure virtual consultations.
Dr Jamie Shepherd, ProCare’s associate clinical director and GP owner at Mission Bay Medical Centre said despite the obvious challenges presented by the need to implement such significant change to the way doctors traditionally provide care, general practices had all worked exceptionally hard to implement really great virtual consultation options for patients to help slow down and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Prior to Covid-19 probably only a handful of the 170 practices in the ProCare network were regularly using video consultations as a way to deliver healthcare to their patients. Now well over half are offering video consults, and all practices do phone consultations.”
Dr Shepherd, who has been holding ‘digital first’ consultations with his patients over the past few years says the convenience factor is seeing more and more patients elect to have their consultations in a virtual format.
“Our patients tell us that they love the convenience of a virtual consultation, with time-saving a huge benefit. Many people work away from where their general practice is located, so with a virtual appointment, they can still see their doctor without the need to travel across town for an appointment. It is perfect for a range of situations where there is no need to physically examine a patient.”
“We also have long term relationships with many of our patients and this really helps us to provide good virtual consults as we know their medical history, have access to all their notes and understand any life stresses they have which might be impacting their wellbeing.”
Auckland Te Reo Māori teacher Carlin Shaw was grateful to have a virtual appointment with his doctor during the lockdown saying “Being able to have an appointment over the phone with my doctor was really stress free. My general practice, Turuki Health Care, had a really great system where I checked into their ‘virtual waiting room’ at the time of my appointment and when my doctor was ready he phoned me back. I just had a chat to him like I was in his office and because he had access to all my notes it was simple. He then sent a prescription to my local pharmacy. I’d definitely do a virtual appointment again with my doctor, even when we are through Covid-19 - it was so easy and saved me so much time.”
Manly Medical’s Dr Bruce Henderson is now a firm advocate for virtual consultations, despite being initially sceptical that patients could be effectively diagnosed via phone or video.
“First of all, our patients really appreciated the move to carrying out their consultations via phone or video, understanding it was the most practical way to slow down the spread of the virus. I’d say on average there has been only one out of every four or five patients after an initial phone or video consult deemed necessary to come in for a face-to-face appointment.”
Dr Henderson, says virtual consultations will continue to be a regular service offered by Manly Medical.
“Beyond Covid-19, virtual consultations will continue to suit many patients as a way to access support for their health needs. Now we are set up to deliver healthcare support via phone or video effectively, we are very happy to embed this into our model of care,” he says.
Renee Muru-Barnard from Turuki Healthcare says staff have adopted virtual consultation much quicker than expected.
“Our staff have taken to the virtual environment a lot quicker than we anticipated, but I guess that’s the reality of needing to evolve literally overnight.
“We’re doing welfare checks on all our patients over 65 and giving them a consultation via phone at the moment, we’re organising their medication in collaboration with the pharmacy and getting those dropped off to them as well. Our ideal is if they are well they stay home,” she says.
As New Zealand moves into more relaxed alert levels, Dr Shepherd says the public should not delay in seeking support for health-related issues.
“We encourage all patients to continue to seek the care they need and call their practice first to see if a virtual consult is suitable or if they need an ‘in-person’ consultation. While practices will always offer the option for video or telehealth consultation, there will be still some instances when the doctor will need to see their patient face to face,” he says.
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