What is telehealth? A brief guide for whānau

You're used to talking to your friends through text, social media, email and video apps such as Skype, Facetime or Zoom. Now you can 'see' your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional using different digital technologies.

This new way of seeing your doctor and other health providers is part of keeping physical distance from each other as much as possible – something we need to be doing to help keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Your first consultation may seem strange for both you and your health provider, that’s normal. As we do this more often everyone will start to feel more comfortable.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth or virtual healthcare provides a way of having an appointment with your doctor, practice nurse and other health providers without seeing them in person. It's sometimes also called e-consultation.

It might involve:

  • sending messages via your patient portal
  • emailing, texting or having a phone call with your doctor, practice nurse or other health provider
  • having a video call where you can see your doctor, nurse, psychologist or other health provider and talk about your condition just as you would if you were in the same room.

Benefits include:

  • removing the risk of catching or spreading germs
  • reducing time and costs involved with travelling to an appointment 
  • not having to leave the house when you are feeling unwell.

What can I expect from a telehealth consult?

Different health professionals will have different approaches to what or who they communicate with using these technologies. This depends upon their level of experience and what facilities they have available to them, and to you. 

Here are some commonly asked questions about what you can expect:

Do I need to pay?

If the consultation is through a private healthcare facility, such as your family doctor/GP, you will be asked to pay for the health professional’s time. This will differ by health professional but expect to be asked to pay an ordinary consultation fee for a video consult.

Will my information be secure and safe?

Yes, your health professional will keep your information secure and safe, and will treat the information you share with them in the same way as they normally would if you were to see them in person.

What if I need a physical examination?

As your health professional will not be able to examine you, sometimes you may be asked to examine yourself. For example, you may be asked to feel your tummy for where it is sore. Sometimes it can help to have someone else you are comfortable with do this for you. This could be a family member, a friend or another health professional. 

What if I need my blood pressure, heart rate and temperature measured?

If you have your own equipment, you may be asked to take your own blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. Taking your own pulse can be quite easy. You can find it in your neck or in your wrist close to the base of your thumb and time it over one minute.

Read more FAQs about telehealth

How should I prepare for my telehealth consult? 

  1. If you are having a scheduled appointment you are likely to be sent a link by email (sometimes by text). You will need to click on this link. Take care that the link is the one you were expecting from your healthcare professional. 
  2. Make sure you are in a comfortable and private place.
  3. It's best if have a hands-free device. If you have a smart phone, find a way to prop it up so that you can move about.
  4. Make sure that you have tested out your audio. You may need to have a set of earphones to hear well.
  5. You may want to have a family/whānau member or friend with you. That’s fine – just tell the health professional when you join that they are there.
  6. Write a list of what you want to talk about and have a pen and paper handy to write anything down if you need to.
  7. Have all of your medicines with you, either in a list or in the packaging.
  8. Make sure that there is no one else streaming information from linked-in devices while you are having your consult, eg, if someone is watching a video on the wi-fi network you are using, your video may be poor quality.

How do I keep myself safe using telehealth?

Telehealth services are secure and the same levels of privacy and security apply to this type of consultation as they normally would for your normal doctor visits.

Since telehealth consults will take place from your own device and home environment, you have a role to play in keeping yourself safe online. Follow the guides from CERT NZ and these tips and advice for good online safety habits 
Check out the instructions on how to use the telehealth service and enable all security and privacy features before you have your first virtual consultation. Some services may have a waiting room so you can test the connection in advance. 

If possible, close any other applications or web-browser windows before and during the consultation to avoid performance and security issues. If internet speed is an issue, turning off video might help.



Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.