Telehealth and COVID-19

For Rebecca, isolation, social distancing and fear of contracting COVID-19 only intensified her already elevated health anxiety. Working from home in Cairns whilst caring for her two school-aged children left little time for herself. At night, the pain and the fear became all-consuming.

Rebecca is just one of thousands of people who have opted to wait until the pandemic is over to have their medical concerns investigated. But there is no end-date in sight. The Coronavirus is among our population indefinitely and although it has somewhat abated, we’ve been forced to kick start the economy. This means children are back in class, workers are returning to their desks and social infrastructure such as retail and hospitality is again open for business.  

Even elective surgery is now available, but contrary to some beliefs, clinicians, GPs and other allied health professionals never went offline. The telehealth system made certain that these services were open to people of any age and health condition.

One organisation whose clinic doors remained open throughout the pandemic crisis is continuing to encourage the use of telehealth, where applicable, to all those people requiring support.  

Sharon Stokell is True Relationships and Reproductive Health’s Business Manager of Clinical Services and Operations. She says that the addition of more telehealth consultations has been very well received by both staff and clients alike, allowing individuals to access expert reproductive and sexual health information and services where attendance face-to-face may not have been possible.

“An increased Telehealth offering has been instrumental in True’s service continuing,” Sharon said. “This model has allowed more people to access our services during the restrictions, offering both telehealth and face-to-face consultations for clients, depending on individual needs.”

True made an immediate decision to increase telehealth access in early March, recognising its ability to continue True’s delivery of health services to all Queenslanders including the most vulnerable population groups, people with disabilities, and migrants.

True now hopes that an increase in telehealth is here to stay, continuing to break down barriers and provide reproductive and sexual health services to as many people as possible.

True’s Outreach Clinics are particularly successful in breaking down the geographical barriers and making connections with people in rural and remote communities.

“In these regional communities, there is limited access to reproductive and sexual health services,” Sharon explained. “Local people travel extraordinary distances to be able to see experts in this field and it’s essential that services are able to be accessed within these communities.

“In many cases, people are suffering for extended periods of time with conditions that are treatable because they cannot leave the farm, property or work for long enough to receive treatment in the major surrounding cities.

“True can provide advice on preventative care, vital information to explain health conditions, or a specialist referral.”

In 2014, the Queensland Health and Community Services Committee conducted an inquiry into telehealth services in Queensland. The committee found that telehealth delivered significant benefits to patients including improved access to health services generally, and timely specialist and emergency advice such as expert trauma care, effective management of chronic disease, resulting in reduced hospital admissions and reducing the burden of disease on individuals. The committee found that some people travelled more than a day for a short outpatient appointment and stated that unreasonable burden of travel should be avoided to reduce time away from work and family, and cost to consumers.*

Telehealth reforms are currently under examination after a Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) recent survey of approximately 1200 GPs found that 99 per cent were now offering consultations via phone or video. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is lobbying for the continuation of patients being treated by telehealth post-COVID-19.

Almost 4.7 million Australians have received 7.7 million telehealth services since March 13. According to the Health Department, more than 67,000 providers across all medical specialities had used telehealth services.**

In addition, private health insurers are expecting telehealth extras coverage to be in demand even after the coronavirus pandemic, saying there is a place for them in a telehealth reimbursement scheme with no additional cost to government.***

For the foreseeable future, telehealth consultations are the best solution for Queenslanders to alleviate health concerns. 

“We eventually do see clients like Rebecca, who come in much later than they should and most of the time, we can help them to solve their health concerns. Our clinicians encourage people to seek an appointment, telehealth or face-to-face as soon as one is needed,” Sharon said. “Thankfully it was not serious, and Rebecca’s health issue was resolved during a telehealth appointment.”

For more information or to book a True telehealth consultation, find your nearest clinic or phone (07) 3250 0240.

True provides services for all bodies, sexual orientations and cultures in a culturally safe manner.

True’s Clinics provide expert reproductive and sexual health services into those communities where there is otherwise a gap in the service available throughout Queensland.