Appointments via video or phone call are the new normal since our health services had to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. Remote appointments bring benefits, both now and in the future.
This year, we’ve all had to adapt suddenly to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Not only has it affected our personal and social lives, but also the way businesses, organisations and health services operate.
One way that our health services have adapted is through the increased use of telehealth. It uses common video call platforms or phone calls to provide appointments to all patients – including those with cancer.
Despite the anxieties and challenges that COVID-19 has brought with it, it has provided a collective opportunity for us to learn new skills and experiences that will continue to be of benefit well into the future.
Even once the threat of COVID-19 eases, it’s likely that telehealth appointments will be incorporated into patient care more often. Whilst telehealth does have many benefits, it is still evolving and may not be suitable for all consultations.
For people that do have a telehealth appointment, here are some tips for getting the most out of your appointment.
If you or someone close to you is undergoing cancer treatment, keep this information handy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and into future.
What are the benefits?
Telehealth’s original aim was to service those in remote and rural areas. But today, it provides a safe way to meet during COVID-19 and can:
- enable you to continue your vital health care
- reduce your risk of getting other illnesses like colds, flu and coronavirus. This is important if your immune system (the body’s ability to fight infection) has been weakened by cancer treatment
- avoid the need to travel to appointments
- save you money on travel and accommodation costs
- be faster if you just need a prescription or have a quick question for your treatment team
What appointments are best for telehealth?
During cancer treatment, patients will need to see various health professionals. Telehealth is best for the following types of appointments:
- Follow-up care
- Scan and test results. When booking your appointment, check with your health professional if you are able to receive scan or test results via telehealth
- Advice on symptoms and side effects
- Repeat prescriptions
- Nutrition and exercise advice
What technology is needed?
- A smartphone, iPad/ tablet, laptop or a computer that has a camera, microphone and speakers. If you’re not sure how to set yourself up, reach out to your friends and family who may be able to help you
- An email address or mobile phone number so your doctor can email or text through the instructions and link
- Internet connection
- A mobile phone or landline
Preparing for the appointment
You should let the health service know if you generally have trouble hearing or need an interpreter. You should make sure to:
- read any instructions
- have a list of questions prepared
- have the email address for your local pharmacy so if a prescription is needed, the doctor can email the pharmacy any prescriptions
- have a support person attend if needed. When on the call, find a quiet place to minimise interruptions
- rest your screen on something so you don’t have to hold it. This will make concentrating on the call much easier and will also free your hands to write any notes. A pile of books on the kitchen table can work well
- set up the screen so your face and shoulders are in view
- connect a few minutes before the appointment time so you can check everything is working
Can I ask for a face-to-face appointment?
Yes. You should have a face-to-face appointment if:
- it’s your first time seeing the doctor
- your health professional has asked to see you in person
- a physical examination, test, treatment or scan is required
- you do not feel comfortable using telehealth
- you do not have the technology or cannot use it
- you have more than one appointment at the health centre or hospital
How much will it cost?
Anyone with a Medicare card can get a rebate (money back) for telehealth appointments. Before your appointment, we recommend asking your health service if your appointment can be bulk billed (free) and if not, what the out of pocket costs will be.
Telehealth kicking goals
AFL football legend and melanoma patient Jarryd Roughead happens to be one of the many cancer patients benefiting from telehealth.
Recently Jarryd had a scan to check he was still cancer-free, and opted to receive the results via a telehealth appointment with his oncologists. Thankfully, he got the all-clear!
Former Hawthorn Football Club captain, Jarryd Roughead
“Telehealth was great. I was able to log on to the computer at home and have my consultation with my doctor,” said the former Hawthorn Football Club Captain.
“It was great because my doctor reassured me, it was on time, and there were no anxieties about going into the hospital.”
Jarryd wants to send a message to any patient who’s unsure about telehealth that they will still receive top quality service, and that they can play their part in easing the spread of COVID-19 by staying home.
“Even though you’re not going into the room with your doctor, its actually okay to be sitting at home and have your consultation there. You’re still well looked after, and you’re still cared about.
“If I can make a recommendation, everyone do telehealth because it helps out the doctors and nurses and you can also stay at home while you have your consultation.”