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Ipswich patients embrace telehealth during COVID-19

Video conferencing technology is helping West Moreton Health expand its reach and provide more care closer to home.

In the past six months the number of telehealth appointments has tripled from an average of 300 to 900 appointments per month.

Antenatal and post-natal care is among the key services to adopt the technology this year.

West Moreton Health’s chief operating officer Matthew Tallis said plans to expand telehealth were already in place when the COVID-19 global pandemic environment triggered a more rapid roll-out.

“We have been using videoconferencing, including the successful MeCare digital platform, at West Moreton Health for more than five years, which means we were in a fortunate position to adapt swiftly and efficiently to the challenges of COVID,” Mr Tallis said.

“Videoconferencing has maintained community access to health services, which is important to population health, pandemic or not, while removing any risk of transmission through remote videoconferencing appointments.”

Telehealth business coordinator Jasmin Wegener said telehealth videoconferencing was appropriate for any appointments that do not require a clinician to physically touch a person to perform a health check.

“That means appointments where a clinician is providing education, discussing results or following up on earlier interventions can all be safely provided via telehealth,” Ms Wegener said.

“Because telehealth uses videoconferencing, clinicians and patients maintain that visual interaction which helps with explanation and demonstration of body movement.”

Ms Wegener said a new virtual waiting room, which was added to the West Moreton Health telehealth platform in July, provided a better user experience, allowing consumers to register their availability and wait for an appointment as they would in-person, and improved efficiencies for clinicians to focus more on patient care.

Ambulatory Services Nurse Unit Manager Julie Eaton said videoconferencing appointments were rolled out in July for the initial 70-minute book-in appointment with all expectant mothers.

“At the outset of COVID-19, we moved from our standard in-person clinic appointments to telephone appointments to gather health history and personal details and discuss models of care available during pregnancy to limit person-to-person contact,” Ms Eaton said.

She said the disruption to usual services was an opportunity to consider how the midwifery team could better meet the needs of pregnant women in West Moreton.

“The first woman to use telehealth joined an early morning videoconference appointment from her bedroom surrounded by her kids. She didn’t need to worry about rushing to the hospital with her three kids in tow – it was a convenient, relaxed experience,’’ Ms Eaton said.

Ms Eaton said they were excited to launch antenatal group education classes by videoconferencing soon.

“There was previously a cap of 10 couples per class but the telehealth platform will provide access to more people in the region which is a great outcome as the more informed expectant parents are, the more confident they feel about child birth and parenting,’’ Ms Eaton said.

“People can choose to attend only the sessions of interest, which I think will be a great incentive for second, third and fourth-time parents to take a refresher, and it may also remove any anxiety for those who feel uncomfortable attending group sessions in-person.”

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