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23 April, 2020

What is Telehealth and How Do I Use It?

Being a new mum is hard enough, let along being a new mum in the middle of a pandemic, especially when you're worried about yourself or your baby and need medical advice. Telehealth is a new “it” word in our everyday vocabulary, and describes situations where doctors and other health professionals can do consultations using platforms such as Skype, Zoom or Facetime for example.

To help answer your questions about Telehealth One Fine Baby speaks to GP Obstetrician and Visiting Medical Officer Dr. Sarah Gleeson, Co-Founder and Director of Family HQ.

How is Coronavirus affecting visiting your local doctor?

Due to COVID-19, GPs are limiting face-to-face appointments to protect patients and their staff. This works by limiting the amount of people interacting in the waiting rooms and throughout the practice.

Normally when you see your GP, Medicare provides you with a rebate for a portion (about 50%) of the cost of the appointment. If you are bulk-billed, your GP accepts that rebate as full payment for the consultation.  In the past, patients were unable to access a Medicare rebate for telehealth consultations with their GP. The Australian government has introduced new Medicare item numbers which provide funding for healthcare workers to provide consultations by video call or telephone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most GPs will be offering you the option of a telehealth appointment because, for the vast majority of families, it is safer for you to be at home at the moment. As you can imagine, it is much easier to do this with a doctor you already know, so where possible please continue to see a doctor that’s familiar with your medical history.

But what if I need to actually SEE the GP? I hear you ask. We know there are always some appointments that need to be done face-to-face, for example; immunisations, baby checks, pap smears, wound care, skin cancer removal. We want to make sure we continue to provide excellent primary care, and will liaise with you about the safest way to make sure your health needs are met.

How does Telehealth actually work?

Each healthcare provider will use different systems, including Skype, Zoom, Health Direct and GP consults. These platforms can be used on your phone/laptop/tablet/desktop. If you are having a phone consult, it will either come from the practice land line, or a private number as your GP will have their caller ID blocked. Check with your local healthcare provider about their booking processes.

Just like ‘the old days’ you will be given an estimated appointment time, and will need to be ready for the call. If you can be well prepared it helps you make the most of your appointment time.

Just like in pre-COVID times, you may have to wait for your appointment. Connectivity issues are making running to time a greater challenge and we appreciate your patience. Your GP may ask you to confirm your date of birth and address to make sure they’re speaking with the right person.

Blood test forms, imaging forms and scripts can be faxed or delivered to pathology and radiology services and chemists of your choice.

If your GP thinks that you need to be seen face-to-face, or have treatment administered, they will arrange for this to be done.

Tips for patients:

  • Have your phone with you, turned on with the call volume up high.
  • Please answer if it’s a private number – it may be your GP calling with their caller ID blocked.
  • Please have a prioritised list of the things you want to discuss
    1. If it’s more than 2-3 things, please book a long appointment or be prepared to make another appointment.
  • If your GP usually checks your blood pressure or weight and you have a machine/scales at home, please check it in a quiet moment before your appointment as this will be more accurate.
  • If possible, take yourself to a quiet, private space so that you can speak freely.
  • An earpiece is really helpful, especially with video calls as they allow a more private consultation when you are at home with family.
  • You can email photos of rashes or skin lesions to your GP before the consultation.

But what about my sick baby or child?

There is a lot of information your GP can gain over the phone or video to help them decide whether your child needs a face-to-face appointment, a visit to Emergency, or if they can be safely managed at home. There is also a LOT of things parents can do at home BEFORE the appointment to help us make that assessment. We will ask you questions about their:

  • Colour and appearance (are they more pale than usual, do they have a rash?)
  • Behaviour
  • Input (breastmilk or formula, food and water)
  • Output (wees and poos)
  • Temperatures & medicines given
  • Hydration (are their lips and tongue moist?)
  • Breathing pattern (how fast and hard are they breathing? When your child is resting take off/lift their shirt and count how many times they breathe in 60 seconds)
  • Heart rate (press between the ribs under the left nipple on the chest to feel the heart beating. Set the timer on 60 seconds and count how many times it beats)
  • Weight (strip them down and check before the appointment)

 If you can have a think about these things BEFORE the appointment, and jot some information down, it will allow us to more accurately assess your child. We may also ask you to show us specific things (like their breathing pattern) on the video call, and may direct you to check some more things for us.

Telehealth is a great way to keep you and your family, your healthcare providers and the most vulnerable members of our community safe in the time of COVID-19, and may provide some flexibility about how you see your GP in the future.

 

For any other expert advice made for new or expecting parents you can jump over to our blog here!

Important note: 

Check out the resources section at www.familyhq.com.au for our trusted resources.

Dr Sarah Gleeson

MBBS, DRANZCOG (Adv), FRACGP, FARGP.

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