It’s been a really challenging time for us at BJC Health as I am sure it has been for all of you.
If one good thing has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been the amazingly rapid adoption of telehealth consultation for health.
Change in health, and medicine in particular, usually takes time to pervade. Doctors in general have just been slow to embrace digital technologies.
In the space of 2 weeks, all that has changed.
The Australian Government, out of necessity to protect vulnerable individuals, provided medicare item numbers to allow Australian doctors to bulk bill consultations performed using video over the internet or by phone when video was not available. This week, medicare funding was extended to the entire population as we seek to help people as they self-isolate and attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.
What this encouraged was a steep rise in the use of telehealth, as practitioners all around the country tried to keep waiting rooms as empty as practical, keeping patients out of the clinic and safe in their homes or workplace.
What this allowed was for us health professionals to also limit the amount of contact with people, and in so doing, reduce our own risks of developing Covid-19.
It has been challenging.
On Tuesday last week, I had virtual consultations with 36 patients using FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or the phone. It meant rapid changing of video platform on my end. It meant trying to scan pathology and radiology requests, as well as prescriptions before emailing it to my patients. It involved mailing physical copies of these requests in some cases.
On this same day, I only saw 1 patient in the flesh. A new patient who I really needed to examine and to engage with in person. This involved me using what little PPE (personal protective equipment) I had, safety glasses bought from Bunnings and a mask.
All the rheumatologists at BJC Health have similar stories and we are all now telehealth-enabled.
Our dietitians are now providing valuable nutrition advice using telehealth. Our physiotherapists have transitioned many of their patients to telehealth but still see those who require touch, physical examination and manual therapy in clinic.
Our exercise physiologists have large gym spaces to conduct one-on-one assessments while maintaining all the social distancing required. They continue to develop a comprehensive timetable of exercise classes delivered using facebook live or zoom, to people with rheumatic disease, who really need to keep moving and exercising, for both physical and mental health.
We are all trying to figure out how to make all this work well. Medical and allied health clinical and business models have been flipped on their heads with this new model of care being delivered at pace, after a huge pivot.
At BJC Health, we will continue to innovate to make sure our patients with rheumatic disease reap the benefits.
Extra value from extra access and engagement, with high levels of convenience.