Telehealth fast gaining traction

IF you thought of using Telehealth to consult with a GP or specialist via phone or video call in the fight against COVID-19, now is the best time to do so.

As COVID-19 remains a threat Telehealth has become an option for those in hotspots, at greater risk of infection, too frail to attend hospital, or unable to travel to see a doctor.

Telehealth is a medical service via phone or video call accessible to patients in regional NSW prior to the onset of the pandemic, and it experimented at the Western Sydney Local.

Health District (WSLHD) to save the lives of people with acute diabetes.

It is also the digital platform used by the WSLHD Public Health Unit to check in daily with COVID-19 patients recovering at home.

The phone or video consultations have been found effective in managing the health of some 72,000 people diagnosed with diabetes in Western Sydney, with up to 18% of them currently using Telehealth from the security of their own homes during the pandemic.
Western Sydney Diabetes director, Professor Glen Maberly said Telehealth was being increasingly taken up by diabetes patients, including those with other types of life-threatening illnesses.

The ideal pandemic response

“We are still not running outpatients because we must keep social distancing, therefore we find telehealth works in response to the pandemic,” said Prof Maberly.

“When COVID-19 came along, people with diabetes or at-risk of developing diabetes were coming to the emergency units in reduced numbers, staying away because their chances of having a bad outcome or dying are at least twice as much as the normal population.

“Diabetes is a disease that needs early detection and proper management [because] if left unmanaged it can lead to serious complications including heart attack, vision problems, and kidney damage.”

Western Sydney is considered a hotspot for diabetes with many at-risk people being diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 at doctor’s clinics and hospitals, according to Professor Maberly.

Even when the COVID-19 lockdown rules were relaxed, up to 14% drop in GP consultations on people with diabetes has been documented as face-to-face contacts at clinics and hospitals are shunned that something had to be done, said WSLHD research and surveillance coordinator Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz.

A forum with 50 GPs and 150 health workers in Western Sydney was held last month to discuss swift changes on patient consultations and plan the pivot for Telehealth expert services through three-way video consultations that may involve the services of an interpreter for linguistically diverse patients.

Along with their health education work in Western Sydney, Professor Maberly and Mr. Meyerowitz-Katz were part of the NSW Health pilot program looking into Telehealth specialist services for Goulburn and other rural NSW towns where fly-in-fly-out health specialists are not available regularly.

An additional $2B Federal Government funding for Telehealth under Medicare has been extended till March next year to assist vulnerable sick people in isolation to receive medical care.

Between March 13 and September 9 this year, the Federal Department of Health said about 10.4 million patients have utilized Telehealth resulting in $1.52B paid in Medicare benefits.

The Western Sydney Local Health District covers the local government areas of Blacktown, The Hills Shire, Cumberland, and Parramatta providing health services to nearly a million residents in 120 suburbs.

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