Tweed Health for Everyone Superclinic doctor Simon Walters. Photo: Scott Powick
Tweed Health for Everyone Superclinic doctor Simon Walters. Photo: Scott Powick

120 health services rolling out special tools for patients

FOR many Tweed patients, seeing their doctor is now as easy as making a video or phone call.

More than 120 health services from Tweed Heads to Port Macquarie have jumped on the online consultation tool 'healthdirect' facilitated by the North Coast Primary Health Network in the COVID-19 telehealth rollout.

The free video-call platform is part of the Australian Government's temporary addition of telehealth items to the Medicare Benefits Schedule in response to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

It means eligible patients can see their bulk-billing medical specialists, consultant physicians, obstetricians, midwives, Aboriginal medical services, consultant psychiatrists, mental health workers, nurse practitioners, and all other allied health practitioners via video and phone calls for free.

Tweed Health for Everyone Superclinic doctor Simon Walters, who practises around the Tweed Heads area, said he found the use of video consultations excellent.

He said while some patients' aliments needed face-to-face appointments, electronic consultations helped checking up on elderly patients with chronic illnesses.

"We do an identification check on the phone… it means they don't have to come in if they need something like a script for something we have been treating them for over a period of time. We know them well enough to know the problem might have come up before," Dr Walters said.

"I've been here for almost two years now, so I have a lot of regular patients and so far every telephone consult I've had, I know every patient I'm calling."

He said about half of his appointments each day were using a phone or video call.

According to statistics from the NCPHN, 85 per cent of 101 GP clinics surveyed in the region said they were offering phone or video appointments.

All clinics were still offering face-to-face appointments, and this was still the main form of appointment for 15 per cent.

"I personally think it's great but it's not perfect and I don't think it will be here to stay in general practice," Dr Walters said.

"Things like looking in someone's throat or ears can't be done over the phone."

Dr Walters said the government's fast response and the concept of bulk-billing made sure doctors, especially GPs, could continue to go to work during the pandemic.

"It also means I am getting to follow up with people more often. A busy GP might see 30-40 people in a day and might not get to call someone they think would benefit from a regular phone call," he said.

"Not everyone likes it, but it helps me focus my energy for the day on who might be sicker or need more investigation and a regular patient who needs a check-up."

To date, 2484 video appointments have been conducted via the platform in the Tweed's health network, with mental health services being among the most enthusiastic adopters.

While the coronavirus cases in the Tweed's Local Health District haven't increased in the past three weeks, NCPHN chief executive Julie Sturgess said it was still important to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus for vulnerable people in the community.



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