A new study published in the Journal of Primary Health Care shows how during the COVID-19 outbreak, GPs in Italy successfully moved to a virtual medicine model in order to reduce the spread of the virus, and keep patients, and themselves, safe.
Guided by this, and other international examples, The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners asked its 5,500 members to begin remote consultations - seeing patients by phone and video - just 48 hours before the start of our Level 4 lockdown in 2020.
The speed at which general practitioners across the country adapted, along with the benefits that remote consultations provided patients has meant that many GPs are continuing to offer this service today.
College President Dr Samantha Murton says, "The recent change in alert levels in Wellington was a timely reminder of how well telehealth works to allow patients and GPs to keep connected without overcrowding our waiting rooms.
"Offering a phone or video consult can also remove some of the non-COVID barriers faced by patients who might put off seeing their GP due to financial, transport or childcare challenges.
"Being able to provide timely advice to a patient who is unable to leave work or is at home while their baby is asleep shows that our profession is ready and willing to adapt our routines to ensure positive health outcomes for everyone in our communities."
Addressing equity and ensuring our most vulnerable and isolated communities have access to a general practitioner are issues that continue to motivate the GP workforce.
Dr Murton says, "Having made significant changes to ensure the wellbeing of our patients during such a difficult time, why would we change back to something that had not been providing adequate or equitable service for many? The short answer is - we shouldn’t."
Although there are many positives when it comes to remote consultations, GPs do acknowledge the benefits, and necessities, that can come from an in-person consultation.
The study, ‘Vulnerability and ethical issues faced by general practitioners during the Covid-19 pandemic in Italy’ focused on the important role that GPs played in not only providing high-quality clinical assistance to entire communities, but also on the education and transmission of clear messaging to limit misinformation spread about the virus.
The Journal of Primary Health Care is a medical research journal published by The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
Access the report.