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Massive Rise In Use Of Telehealth At DHBs

New Zealand’s DHBs delivered around 32,000 telehealth consultations to patients a week in April, during the nationwide lockdown.

An eHealthNews.nz investigation reveals the significant impact the arrival of Covid-19 has had on the use of telehealth by all 20 DHBs.

While three were unable to provide any data on telehealth pre-Covid, the remaining 17 reported doing around 2,700 telehealth consultations per week in a pre-Covid month from November 2019 – January 2020.

In April, this rose nearly twelvefold to 32,000 per week and has since dropped to around 18,300 per week in June-August this year.

While the number of telehealth appointments being delivered has dropped markedly since the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, DHBs spoken to by eHealthNews.nz say they are now assessing their telehealth capability and looking at what support and enablers they need to build a sustainable and quality service for the future.

New Zealand Telehealth Leadership Group chair Ruth Large says this includes the need for education and support for both clinicians and patients and reliable data collection. Also, digital services such as electronic prescribing and ordering as well as modern booking systems.

More than 90 percent of telehealth consultations during and after lockdown were done via telephone and the proportion of phone over video has increased since before Covid-19 hit. However, the number of DHBs reporting some use of video has risen significantly.

Seven DHBs identified doing around 280 video consultations a week pre-Covid, (ten percent of all telehealth consultations).

In April, 12 DHBs were able to identify around 2000 consultations a week being done via video conference (six percent of the total).

By either June, July or August 2020, all but four DHBs were able to report on telehealth consultations done via video, with an average of 870 per week (five percent of the total).

Overall numbers of telehealth appointments were likely to be higher in Auckland in August due to the city’s latest regional lockdown, but all except one DHB is doing more telehealth appointments now than before Covid-19 arrived in February this year.

Northland was doing the most telehealth of all the DHBs pre-Covid, delivering nearly 1000 a week in November 2019, rising to 3300 this April and then 1745 in August.

Canterbury DHB has gone from delivering around 20 telehealth consultations a week in June last year to around 1300 in June 2020.

Waitemata is the only DHB to be delivering more telehealth appointments now than during the national lockdown, reporting on average 10,000 appointments a week in August.

Only Taranaki DHB was unable to provide specific telehealth data, however chief operating officer Gillian Campbell says prior to Covid-19 less than five percent of all patient contacts were via telehealth and in the most recent week of data 21 percent were virtual.

See the numbers, read analysis and DHB case studies in the eHealthNews.nz Telehealth Special Report, available to HiNZ members only in October 2020.

Hear more on this topic in our next eHealthNews.nz webinar at midday on October 14, on Telehealth – building a lasting service post-crisis.

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