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Data And Digital Key To Coronavirus Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to rapidly deploy digital and data solutions into the health sector, experts say.

Digital technologies can be used to monitor and treat people at home, allow medical staff to work remotely and slow the spread of the virus.

Chair of the National Telehealth Leadership Group Ruth Large says use of telehealth is an important part of the response to the novel Coronavirus.

“If we can prevent people coming and sitting in waiting rooms where they are at risk of catching the virus, that could really make a difference,” she says.

“Virtual care can also help those ‘at risk’ in care facilities or in quarantine.”

In England, general practices have been advised to start conducting as many remote consultations as soon as possible, replacing patient visits with phone, video, online or text contact.

Royal NZ College of GPs President Samantha Murton says many general practices here already have the ability to conduct telehealth appointments via their patient portals and could start offering them reasonably quickly, if required.

Triaging patients can also be done over the phone.

Ministry of Health data from September 2019 shows that two thirds of general practices had implemented patient portals and around one fifth of enrolled patients are registered to use one.

Twenty-nine practices were able to use video conference for consultations at that time.

With New Zealand already suffering from a GP shortage, keeping medical staff healthy is a key concern, Murton says.

“If an outcome of this is that virtual consultations become much more common no one would mind, but it needs to work well and still keep people safe,” she says.

GP at Island Bay Medical Centre Richard Medlicott says his practice has offered video appointments via ManageMyHealth for some time without high uptake from patients, but he expects demand to increase if the new Coronavirus spreads widely in New Zealand.

While telephone consultations are also used, being able to see a person to check for symptoms and appearance in the case of this virus is useful, he says.

Sanjeewa Samaraweera, ManageMyHealth chief architect, says ManageMyHealth is introducing a pre-screening tool on the patient portal where everyone is asked four questions before being allowed to book online or via mobile apps.

Some patients are allowed to book while others are advised to call the health centre, self-isolate or contact the Coronavirus health line.

Orion Health has also developed a ‘comprehensive pandemic outbreak monitoring platform’, which will be offered at free to existing and future customers. (link to sector update)

The software enables health providers to, “remotely monitor and engage patients in their homes, facilitating communication between quarantined people and the healthcare service, as well as maintaining visibility of those recently discharged,” an Orion Health statement says.

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