Using telehealth to improve patients’ experience

A Hanmer Springs family is encouraging rural families to take a new approach to appointments by using technology to access specialist health appointments. 

Natasha Shearer’s family had three video consultations (telehealth) with a Christchurch-based Clinical Paediatric Dietician to explore things they could do to help five-year-old son, Patrick, try new foods.

“Patrick was diagnosed with high functioning Autism three years ago and food is a trigger. It can be related to taste, texture – soft and crunchy, or even knowing what’s in his food. The sensory overload can cause some anxiety.”

The family have had a number of specialist appointments since Patrick’s diagnosis. Before using telehealth, the change of routine and extensive travel added stress at an already difficult time.

“In the past it’s been an ordeal. Pulling Patrick out of school, travelling down to Christchurch, navigating the hospital, and waiting in the waiting room – it is a complete sensory overload that Patrick reacts to.

“Often it was an emotional rollercoaster of a day with rushing, parking, autistic meltdowns. We would arrive back late in the afternoon shattered, without being able to recall much of what was discussed as we were too distracted trying to manage Patrick.”

So when Natasha’s practice, Hanmer Springs Health Centre, asked if she’d like to use telehealth for her appointment, she was keen to give it a try and delighted to discover it was much like a routine general practice appointment.

“Now we just head into the practice and are shown to a room which has already been set up by the clinicians. They stay for the first few minutes to make sure it all connects but then you can discuss anything you want, in private.

“When our family has these appointments we want to get professional answers to our questions. The specialist can show me documents and pictures on her computer and she can send them through immediately. It's the fastest return on information I get with any of the specialists we see.

“I'm not fazed by talking to someone via a computer if it gets me the answers I need to help my family. In fact, you soon forget all about that factor of it.”

Natasha says the best thing about using telehealth is that there is less disruption to the family as a whole and that she’s able to really concentrate on what’s being discussed.

“When I have these appointments locally Patrick can stay in school, as I’m close by if there’s an issue and I need to collect him. My husband, who is a policeman, doesn’t have to change his shifts. I can really focus and write it all down.

“Then I can carry on with my typical daily tasks without going through that roller coaster of emotions we experience during a physical appointment.

“I feel as though our time is a lot better used and we get 100% of the information we need. It also has a positive effect on our stress levels as a family.”

Natasha stresses that it’s a great service which people should give a try. “We’re very grateful to be offered this marvellous service and would encourage others in our community to give it a go. This can make a really big impact on your day and even change how you view the health system.”

Getting the high-speed broadband that makes telehealth work into rural areas was a key focus for the Hurunui Health Services Development Group (HHSDG) – a working group which includes community members and health professionals working alongside health service managers from Waitaha Primary Health and Canterbury District Health Board.

It’s one of 17 recommendations the HHSDG has worked to progress since the plan to enhance local health services (model of care) was signed off in July 2018.

Other areas of work that have been progressed under the plan include:

  • practices working together and with St John to support the community’s access to urgent care after-hours;
  • support for general practice’s to monitor people who are unwell people while they wait for an ambulance to transfer them to hospital;
  • improving access to specialist mental health services;
  • improving pre and post-natal care through Hurunui Plunket, local midwives / Lead Maternity Carers (LMCs) and the Canterbury Maternity Service.

You can read more about the recommendations made and progress along the way on the Hurunui Health Services Development Group webpage or directly by downloading the model of care

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