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Communication is key . . . Southern District Health Board telehealth co-ordinator Sandra Brough welcomes patients to use the telehealth system in Central Otago. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

ALEXIA.JOHNSTON

@alliedpress.co.nz

Telehealth is increasingly revolutionising the way patients can access their follow-up care – in some cases from the comfort of their own home.

A growing number of people, including patients from Central Otago, are opting for the service, which allows them to have follow-up appointments via video conference.

Telehealth provides information and communication technologies to deliver health care when patients and care providers are not in the same location.

For some Central Otago residents, that has meant they have not had to drive to Dunedin Hospital for their appointment.

Instead, they have been able to discuss their situation with their health specialist face to face – via video conference.

For example, illnesses can be diagnosed and treatment provided via secure video conference. To be effective, telehealth relies on fast broadband internet services.

“I just encourage the patients to ask ‘do I need to travel to Dunedin or Invercargill [or] could I have had this closer to my home?”‘ – Southern District Health Board telehealth co-ordinator Sandra Brough

Southern District Health Board telehealth co-ordinator Sandra Brough said a recent survey had shown a growing number of people were using the service, but just how many of them were from Central Otago was not known.

A detailed analysis of results was ongoing, but initial findings show there had been a general increase in the use of telehealth across New Zealand’s district health boards since the last survey in 2014.

“The idea is we want to offer health as close to the patient’s home,” Ms Brough said.

“I just encourage the patients to ask ‘do I need to travel to Dunedin or Invercargill [or] could I have had this closer to my home?”‘

She said the aim was to make life easier for people.

“It’s all about communication and getting information out to the community and [making sure] we can help them manage their health.”

Nationally, the number of district health boards with telehealth programme managers has increased and more were also providing telehealth training to staff.

Telehealth is used for multi-disciplinary meetings with streaming of pathology and radiology images, allowing clinicians who previously could not attend to participate.

Among the specialists regularly communicating with patients via the service is SDHB paediatrician Ben Wheeler.

“It’s all about communication and getting information out to the community and [making sure] we can help them manage their health.” – Sandra Brough

He has been running clinics from Dunedin, benefiting patients in Central Otago.

“The patient attends Dunstan Hospital or they could be in their own home. Sometimes it’s just clinicians and patients, or with another health care worker.”

However, the telehealth service was not always the best option, Ms Brough said.

“If the patient needs an examination you aren’t able to do that virtually, but if it’s a follow up [you can]. The patient has a choice.

“It’s not for every patient.”

Healthcare related education, research and evaluation can also take place using telehealth facilities.