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Telehealth services are connecting the Waikato

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Thames Hospital staff linking with nurse practitioner Jane Jeffcoat in Taumarunui – l-r clinical nurse manager Janine Lee, clinical nurse leader Diane Stutchbury, nurse Ashleigh Greaney and medical officer Mike Kerr.

Coromandel and Taumarunui residents now have access to more specialist services without having to travel to Waikato Hospital.

Thames Hospital recently trialled its first Telehealth consultations with paediatrician Dr John Goldsmith.

Dr Goldsmith used a webcam to transmit himself to a computer in the room with the patients and vice versa. The system is similar to common technologies like Skype and FaceTime but is designed for the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) to comply with patient privacy standards.

Thames Hospital Outpatients and Administration Manager Rodger Clark said this was the first step in delivering health services that would reduce travel time for rural patients and give them greater access to specialist opinions.

“The step after that is to do a clinic from Hamilton… The longer term goal is for some clinics to be able to be run in the town of the patient. For example a patient can go to room in Whitianga and have a consultation with their specialist in Hamilton.”

Mr Clark said the patients will always be physically seen by a health practitioner and the service will only be used for services and consultations where it is deemed safe.

New Zealand Telehealth Forum deputy chair Dr Ruth Large said telehealth services will be used for outpatient services, to connect health workers across the district for planning and strategy meetings and for specific acute health care.

Thames Hospital will receive a portable telehealth cart that will allow doctors in Waikato Hospital to do virtual rounds with patients in rural hospitals.

“At the moment we have a geriatrician that visits once a week and she has eight patients here under her care but hopefully what this means is that she can see patients more frequently and do rounds with them by utilising the technology,” said Large.

The driver for the project was the incentive to give patients living rurally better care.

“Over the last five years some of our patients travelled for hours for a 10-15 minute consultation. And they may not even have hands laid on them by a doctor; it is just a discussion and a look at blood tests.”

The hope is that eventually acute services, like the mobile cart, will be able to assist smaller emergency departments with complex cases by connecting specialist doctors at Waikato Hospital with those in rural communities.

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