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Telehealth: Premium Healthcare From The Comfort Of Your Home

Telehealth
Fueled by COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions, recent years have seen a rapid surge in the number of telehealth consultations completed in New Zealand – and it looks like this alternate mode of healthcare access is here to stay.

Before New Zealand’s first lockdown, there was an average of 3,000 telehealth consultations completed per week across 17 District Health Boards (DHBs). The first month of lockdown saw this figure skyrocket to 34,500 per week, with certain DHBs maintaining high levels of telehealth appointments post-lockdown. These statistics exclude telehealth numbers completed in private medical centers and among allied health professionals – making the ongoing totals even higher.

With a $10.5 million dollar cash injection provided by the Ministry of Health towards addressing the need for digital health support to both DHB’s and GP’s, the message is clear: the demand for telehealth is growing, the processes are becoming more efficient and well-accepted, and the benefits are significant.

 

How Telehealth Works

Telehealth simply means that health-related services are provided via telecommunication technology, like your phone, iPad or computer, instead of having you physically attend an appointment at a clinic. This includes having a remote assessment of your symptoms and concerns, being given a diagnosis where possible, and having a treatment plan created to help you best manage your health concerns and your wellbeing.

Appointment times are booked as you normally would with a standard consultation, during which you select a mode of communication – either video and audio, or audio only. You then receive a call at your allocated appointment time from a device that is secure, and fit for the purpose of telehealth consultations.

If the consultation findings indicate that a physical assessment is important or necessary, your doctor will arrange this with you and guide you on the process. If the outcome of your consultations indicates a medical emergency, an ambulance may be called or you may be instructed to head to the hospital immediately. 

Your medical records will be updated by your GP just as they would for a regular in-clinic visit, and any referrals that may be needed as a result of your consultation will be created and sent in a timely manner.

 

Why Telehealth Is Changing Healthcare For Good

The benefits of telehealth are far-reaching and many, and include:

 

Saving Time And Money

Telehealth enables you to save the costs associated with travelling to an appointment, which may include public transport charges, childcare, taking time off work, and more. These cost and time savings help make healthcare more accessible to all New Zealanders, especially with indirect costs like travel being a noted barrier to healthcare accessibility and equity.

 

Contactless And COVID-Safe

In this unique time of rapidly changing alert levels and social distancing, telehealth offers a reliable, contactless and COVID-safe way to look after your health and promptly address any health concerns that arise under any alert level. 

Given the duration of New Zealand’s lockdowns, especially exceeding four weeks at level four in New Zealand on more than one occasion, the delays created by waiting for an in-person appointment may contribute to health deterioration with significant consequences, while progressing straight to the hospital may lead to overcrowding for non-emergency medical situations, while putting you in danger by being in a high-risk location. 

 

Accessibility

Telehealth can be conducted via landline, a mobile device using the phone service, a mobile device using the internet service, a computer using the internet service, and more. This diversity gives most households the opportunity to access health consultations without barriers, where appointments may have previously been difficult to attend logistically.

There is also a significant benefit to those residing in rural or remote locations as more medical institutions across the country uptake telehealth service provision. If their local practice is fully booked or unavailable, residents now have instant access to a variety of other clinics and services in their area – from the comfort of their home.

 

Prescriptions Sent Direct To Pharmacy

Any prescriptions your doctor prescribes can be faxed or emailed directly to the pharmacy nearest to you for a convenient pick-up, without having to send you to another location after an in-person appointment. 

 

Discretion

Telehealth can reduce the stigma associated with visiting a clinic when discussing sensitive matters involving sexual health, mental health, and many others. This may help with getting help early for these problems, without fear of judgement, the risk of running into someone you know in the waiting room, all from the privacy of your home.

 

Peace Of Mind

Between outbreaks, variant strains, mask refusals – and even the passing of common colds and flus within families and children, there is a significant risk for families who hesitate to access essential health services – even if it means being exposed to packed waiting rooms, or being in closer proximity to multiple other people and households. Telehealth offers a sense of security, safety and peace of mind, helping to ease the stress and anxiety experienced by many during this time.

 

Patient Satisfaction

Telehealth services were reviewed by over 1,000 New Zealanders who had at least one telehealth consultation during the 2020 lockdown. Overall, there was a high level of satisfaction with telehealth in general practices. It was reported to work best for routine appointments and familiar health issues, and when rapport was established between a patient and their clinician. The primary area where telehealth was reported to be less suitable was when a physical exam was needed, as well as for patients who had a strong preference to be seen in-person, or for those with an undetermined diagnosis.

 

Affordable With HealthNow 

With regular consultation fees still applying to telehealth appointments, and up to 39% of New Zealanders being shown to avoid visiting their GP when they have a genuine medical need due to the upfront appointment feeds, financial constraints have previously been a barrier to uptaking both telehealth and in-clinic appointments.

Today, this barrier is being removed as telehealth is now compatible with New Zealand’s leading health-focused Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) platform, HealthNow. Used as an app on your smartphone, simply share your transaction code from the app with your health provider at the end of your telehealth appointment. You choose how you want to pay, spreading the cost over a maximum of six weeks. Regardless of the payment approach you choose, your health provider will get paid in full on the day by HealthNow.

HealthNow’s mission to improve accessibility and affordability means that there are no fees or interest to use their services, so unlike other BNPL services, you never pay anything more than the total charged by your health provider. Instead, HealthNow is currently offering a $10 credit when you first create an account to use on any health service or pharmacy prescription or product.

You can start using HealthNow today on our app. You can also check out HealthNow’s full benefits and features, including a health wallet to store funds set aside for health services that can be contributed to by others including your employer.