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Doctors to watch Healthline

FROM: Dr Pippa MacKay, NZMA Chairman

DATE: 8 May, 2000

SUBJECT: Doctors to watch Healthline

Doctors should keep a close watch on the Healthline telephone initiative, which starts today, the New Zealand Medical Association says.

The NZMA neither formally supports nor opposes the project, NZMA Chairman Dr Pippa MacKay said. But it is taking a close interest, and wants doctors to monitor its outcomes (both positive and negative) in their regions.

"We do have some concerns about how Healthline will work," Dr MacKay said. "When people telephone to talk about a health problem, the nurses answering the phones will have to rely solely on what that person tells them, and how they interpret their own symptoms. Diagnosis is very subtle, and the visual signs that can be observed in a physical examination will be missed.

"For this reason, Healthline must be considered as just one step in the health process. It is vital that unwell people are referred on to the appropriate health professionals, such as their family GP, to be seen in person."

The NZMA is aware of similar telephone health services which operate in overseas countries, but there is no clear evidence yet of their effectiveness.

"Healthline may turn out to be a useful service to help people get appropriate health care, but it is certainly not a replacement for a well-funded health system," Dr MacKay said. "The Government has signalled that there is very little extra funding available for health care. Healthline, at a cost of some $7 million, will take a large chunk of that."

The NZMA is keen to be involved in the evaluation process for Healthline, before decisions are made about extending the pilot to the entire country.

CONTACT DETAILS ARE:

Dr Pippa MacKay (03) 351 6198 (wk) (03) 355 5717 (hm) (025) 484 718 (mobile)

Shani Naylor Communications Co-ordinator (04) 472 4741 (wk) (025) 284 1081 (mobile)

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