Northern Health, as part of our response to COVID- 19, has introduced telehealth as a strategy to support patients attending our Specialist Clinics (Outpatients).
Tracey Webster, Project Officer Telehealth says, “The majority of our telehealth consultations are still on the telephone, however this April we began a pilot project for video consultations.”.
“We started with low risk paediatric and respiratory patients. This has now grown to include Hand Therapy, Northern Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessment Clinic, Pleural Clinic, Women’s Health Physiotherapy Clinic, Speech Pathology and Dietetics Feeding Clinic,“ says Tracey.
Dr David Tran, senior paediatrician at Northern Hospital was one of the first to trial telehealth.
He says “A lot of paediatric assessment relies on the observation of a child. In the outpatient setting, we manage conditions that vary from acute to chronic conditions and although it is important they need to have regular reviews –they don’t need to necessarily come into the hospital for it.”
“It is this cohort of patients for whom telehealth is ideal, particularly in the current situation where we don’t want to increase their risk of coming into the hospital.”
“Besides, for a child to attend their appointment they need to bring in mum and dad, sometimes the other siblings – it can be quite an exercise. ”
“With telehealth they can do it from the comfort of their home, without disrupting the family routine, whilst observing social distancing.”
David says the vast majority of families have really welcomed it. “It has certainly made things incredibly easier for families.”
Belinda Baldry is one mum who will agree. When she was called up and offered a telehealth for her son Kyle, she readily agreed. She says her experience with telehealth is that “It was so much easier and convenient. There were no distractions. It was also more convenient and hassle free of waiting rooms and parking.”
Son Kyle on his part appreciates the extra time it gives him with his Playstation.
Dr Tran has been a paediatrician with Northern Health for five years who says prior to telehealth the only other option was a phone appointment. As he points out, “we often do that as a check-in on patients, but you can’t do that with a new patient and with patients that you need to lay eyes on.”
David says there is a big difference between telehealth and a phone appointment. He says a phone appointment is “like having a phone conversation without really a full consult. Whereas in a telehealth appointment, the patients are there in a virtual waiting room, we accept them into the consult and you and the patient dedicate your time and attention to make the most of the appointment. Plus you get to see them.”
“It really improves the clinical assessment of the patient.”
The fact that we have a significant non-English speaking population has not been a deterrent, says David, “Our interpreter service has been really helpful in setting this up and communicating with patients on how to set up. It has added an extra layer of preparation for it- but when it works it has worked really seamlessly, where the interpreter is there on the screen and the patient is there too and it feels like all three of us are there in the consult.”
David would recommend telehealth even post COVID-19. Particularly “patients we have met before and we know have difficulty accessing services, transport, time etc., for them telehealth would be very helpful. “
“We certainly can convert a lot of them to telehealth for the convenience of the patient and the family whilst maintaining good clinical care,” says David.
Mum Belinda agrees. When asked if she would recommend telehealth, her response was an emphatic,”yes, indeed!”
Featured picture shows Dr David Tran in a telehealth consultation with Kyle-Simon Watson