Telehealth draws mixed response from group

Telehealth emerged as a key issue of concern among the group at our first ever Cuppa and Connect event on Monday, following a discussion that ranged over a variety of topics.

Members of the group introduced themselves and shared a little of their background before having a chat about the impact of Covid-19 restrictions and the top-down decision-making in evidence.

Alan, a consumer representative, noted that the decision to announce 2-30 minute appointments with hairdressers in the early days betrayed a total lack of consultation by the PM and cohorts – including surely their owns wives, who could have quickly pointed out how long it takes an average woman at a hairdresser!

He also observed that communications have consistently overlooked the needs of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities/groups  – an ongoing problem in community consultation and engagement where we see a lot of “white bread, middle aged people”.

Tricia, a consumer representative, gave credit to the Future Fund, saying new processes there were a great boon to inclusiveness and that renewed emphasis on National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines and encouragement for researchers to do better would provide even stronger support for inclusiveness next year. She added, Victoria is the “jewel in the crown” as far as consulting consumers goes.

Jude, who ran consumer engagement on behalf of her health service (among other roles) lamented the impact of Covid-19 and social distancing requirements on her consumer consultation program. She noted that it was difficult before lockdown but her consumers were finding engaging via technology challenging and wondered how other consumers were finding it.

Jo, who worked in dental health, said one of the barriers for consumers in engaging via technology was the wall of “judgmental faces” on Zoom – even friendly ones – that could be very intimidating. She said she had been getting around it by having one-on-one chats with her consumers and even using gaming with younger people. She said playing SIMS, Animal Crossing, Pictionary or MineCraft and having chats while in the game was more effective than eyeballing each other in a formal video conference setting.

Forgotten conditions

Krystyna, a consumer representative, said she was deeply concerned that diseases like diabetes and cancer were being forgotten in the Covid climate and that people were not being adequately served by telehealth. Her experience with telehealth had been that it was not effective to meet her needs and she was ultimately forced to make a face-to-face appointment.

She felt that many older people would prefer face-to-face consultations and said talking on the phone just wasn’t the same as seeing someone personally.

Jo responded that she’d had quite a different experience when she had a dental emergency during lockdown. Rather than being subjected to a “terrifying” wait in a hospital where she feared catching the virus, she was able to see a dentist from home and share images of her mouth on her phone to show the problem. She said it was awkward but it removed the fear from the experience and meant she didn’t have to wait for hours to be seen.

Tricia said there was a huge difference between GPs and specialists offering telehealth – especially for rural patients who might otherwise need to travel five hours to see a specialist and could now have that appointment at home. She said these patients found telehealth a wonderful option.

Sandra, a consumer representative, said her husband’s experience with a doctor’s appointment recently had bordered on farcical. He had a sore knee so made an appointment. On arrival he was told to wait in the car. The doctor rang on his phone while he was sitting in the car and asked if he was taking Nurofen. He said yes. The doctor then said to take it for another week and come back if it still hurts.

Tsunami of patients

The group agreed that there could be a tsunami of people flooding the system post-pandemic who had put off regular check-ups and routine screening and this had alarming implications for chronic conditions and illnesses that might then be found at a more advanced stage.

Jo noted that in addition to the known dangers of delayed cancer screening, delayed oral health could be problematic as oral health problems were linked to issues such as mental health, grieving, domestic violence and unemployment. And yet, the catch-22 is dentists can’t offer certain treatments during Covid-19 as the drills spread droplets up to 15 metres, creating an intolerable risk.

Jude added that the multiplier effect of delayed elective surgery, delays in any proceedures requiring intubations and the impact on people in pain who had waited for years on surgery lists – almost reached the top – only to be put off again by Covid-19 would compound these issues.

Tricia said it was important to consider the positives, saying that many people are reporting longer consultations with their doctors during Covid-19, leading to better mental health outcomes and a feeling of being well supported. Some people are reporting appointments of up to an hour, she said.

Alan suggested that instead of raising the mental health spectre and stopping there, the government could provide solutions – such as increasing access to mental health helplines and increasing consultation with organisations like Health Issues Centre, who were engaing with consumers.

Tricia agreed it would be good to present ideas like this to government, underscoring that everyone in a management role appreciates when people bring solutions not just problems.

The group agreed the first Cuppa event had been a great opportunity to gather during difficult circumstances, share ideas and listen to others. It was also a great opportunity for people in more remote locations to get involved.

They agreed that a monthly get-together would be beneficial going forward and that guest speakers would be welcomed at future events.

For more details on the next Cuppa with HIC event, please join our Consumers Connect Facebook Group.