Nearly 4000 people used the new rural telehealth service in the two weeks over Christmas and New Year.
Dr Emma Calvert, the clinical director for Ka Ora, which runs the service, said numbers were bolstered by holiday makers, but it proved that such a system can be part of the solution to the shortage of rural health professionals.
Last November Ka Ora, a combination of three tele-healthcare providers, was awarded a three-year contract to provide after-hours consultations from 5pm to 8am on weekdays, and 24 hours on weekends and public holidays.
Consults can be by telephone or in an appointment made for a video link consultation with a health professional.
From December 22 to January 7, 3973 people used the rural telehealth service, either by telephone or video link, a figure Calvert said about what was expected.
Callers sought advice from information on the location or opening hours for local pharmacies or GPs through to advice about more serious ailments such as viral infections, covid and being kicked by an animal.
Calvert, who is also a general practitioner, said about 1700 callers were resolved with advice from early intervention specialists, and a further 1300 needed triaging by a nurse practitioner a GP or emergency specialist.
Another 800 received an appointment with a GP or senior nurse practitioner, 157 were triaged by a nurse from an emergency consult overnight and 16 received an appointment with an emergency medicine doctor.
Local paramedics, ambulances or on-call GPs can be contacted to respond to those needing immediate treatment for ailments such as chest pains.
Calvert said the telehealth service allows rural health professionals to take time off and it helps to cater for the influx of holiday makers into rural areas.
“There were plenty of patients who supplied an urban address.”
Brick-and-mortar GP practices will always be central to providing health services to rural communities, she said, but additional services can be delivered in a variety of ways.
“We are just a piece of the puzzle.
“We’re not going to solve everything, but we saw over the holiday period that we can make a difference.”
Calvert said feedback from patients and those in rural communities has been positive and shows that telehealth could be a model for the future.
Demand has eased since the end of the holiday period but the service continues.
Ka Ora manager Jess White said the importance of getting the service live for the rural community was evident in the large uptake over the festive period.
“Our teams worked hard to support our rural practices with these after-hours appointments, improving access to primary care when normal general practices are taking a well-deserved break and working on holiday staffing levels,” she said.
In Focus Podcast: Full Show | Friday 26 January
Bryan talks with Anna Nelson, who in May will become the first woman to chair a major NZ meat company when she takes over from Rob Hewett at Silver Fern Farms.
Then Richard McIntyre from Federated Farmers reveals why he’s taken up the fight for Norland Kinney, a Filipino dairy farmer who is being asked to leave NZ after developing a chronic kidney issue, despite giving 10 years of his life to NZ’s dairy industry.
And Senior reporter Neal Wallace takes us through some of the top stories this week.