Better value, patient-centred care for health consumers
The continuation of subsidised phone and online video health consults (telehealth) will be decided this month. As a health consumer, I'm hopeful it will continue with minimal restrictions.
Having delivered various digital health service projects on behalf of Australian governments, I've heard every argument for and against telehealth, some driven by the desire to deliver truly patient-centred care, others from fear of change or potential cost implications. What the past few months has shown us is that telehealth is a convenient and valued method of interacting with health professionals for appropriate health concerns. In this post, I'm sharing my personal experience as a health consumer and advocate for patient-centred care. For myself, my husband, children and parents.
Caring for the 'Sandwich' Generation
I’m a member of the 1.5 million Australians who make up the sandwich generation. Aged between 40 and 49, I am the filling between two slices of bread, which metaphorically represents my role meeting the competing demands of my children and my ageing parents. Add work and looking after my own health to the mix and sometimes the juggle can be a bit of a challenge. Quite often I find that self-care is moved to the bottom of my to-do list. This year however, things have been different thanks to telehealth. Not only different for me, but different and better for my whole family.
Generally, I put off going to a doctor for my health concerns because I don't have time. I suffer in silence (mostly) until I feel well again. I delay the check-ups I'm supposed to have now I'm getting closer to a 'certain age'. Telehealth has taken the 'I don't have time' excuse away from me. Being able to have a consult with a GP and/or Specialist via phone or video call, has meant I’ve interacted more regularly with health professionals for my own health in the last five months, than in the last five years. Whilst on the phone or video call, my doctor has been able to prompt me about a series of preventative checks I never get around to, written up the paperwork and had them booked in. This combination of convenient access, connection to additional testing and person-to-person services when appropriate, has been a great experience for me and definitely improved my self-care.
Care for my children
Getting my 11 and 14 year old sons to a doctors appointment is surprisingly easy with telehealth. The usual reluctance is diminished by the ease with which we can book a consult at home at a time that suits everyone. Instead of traipsing off to the surgery only to find the doctor is delayed and waiting impatiently in the waiting room, we can hang out at home and speak to the doctor when he/she is ready. Having a telehealth call in the car after school, getting the issue diagnosed and being able to pick up a script at our convenience is easy and saves time for everyone. Using technology is second nature to my digital native sons so accessing care via these channels makes complete sense to them. It will hopefully also go some way to breaking down a few of the barriers that exist when it comes to young men and males seeking medical help.
Care for parents
My parents aged 79 and 84 are frequent consumers of health services with new issues popping up at a rapid rate. Sometimes they get a bit overwhelmed as they don’t understand the medical lingo and don't like to ask the Doctor any questions, so I go along with them to appointments. This is helpful as we can make sure everyone feels better informed and understands what procedures, medications and treatments may be required. Attending these appointments usually means I have to juggle responsibilities around and it can feel a bit awkward as my folks don’t always like having their daughter along as the medical chaperone. Telehealth has made this a better experience all round. My parents use their iPad to see the doctor on a video call and with everyone's permission, I can join in to the consult from an alternative location. It feels far less intrusive for all of us than when I go into the doctors rooms, and it's far more convenient for me. More importantly, my parents healthcare is better managed and we all have peace of mind.
Continue telehealth for all
Various peak bodies and advocacy groups will be putting forward their arguments for extensions, changed Medicare items and/or restrictions on telehealth over the next few weeks. I’m fully in the camp for access to a phone or video consult to be made available to anyone with an appropriate health concern. Ideally this would be paid for upfront with a rebate of a gap as per a person to person consult, or bulk billed where appropriate.
I hope consideration will be given to the 1.5 million health consumers like me who can use these services to look after our own and our families health better and as a consequence are likely to be less of a burden on the health system in the future.
To keep up to date on telehealth from a consumer perspective, check out the advocacy activities of the Consumer Health Forum at www.chf.org.au