A new dedicated rural after-hours telehealth service has launched, providing access to medical advice and diagnosis for almost 900,000 New Zealanders.
Rural communities can access the service in two ways, by calling 0800 2 KA ORA (0800 252 672) directly or via referral from their rural healthcare provider.
Co-commissioned by Health NZ (Te Whatu Ora) and the Māori Health Authority (Te Aka Whai Ora), the new service is being delivered by Ka Ora Telecare, which brings together three organisations that provide telehealth care, Reach Aotearoa, Practice Plus and Emergency Consult.
It has been up and running since mid-November, with the first group of 20 rural practices on board and more expected in the coming weeks.
Ka Ora Telecare manager Jess White said when people call the service they are first triaged by nurses and can then be referred to a doctor if needed.
Emergency medicine specialists are also available.
The 0800 service will provide after-hours clinical telehealth care (5pm to 8am) on weekdays, and 24 hours a day on weekends and public holidays.
It provides access for people in rural areas whether they are enrolled with a primary care practice or not.
While the service is subsidised by Health NZ, a patient co-payment will be charged for consultations with a doctor. The service will be free for under-14s, and those on Community Services Card or who are 65 years and over will pay $19.50.
“For those in our most isolated communities, who may only have a landline and no access to the internet, this service is a real step forward in accessing after-hours care when it is not an emergency,” said Dr Sarah Clarke, national clinical director, primary and community care, Te Whatu Ora.
“Alongside this we know that our rural healthcare providers have been under pressure due to workforce shortages with staffing after hours rosters only adding to that pressure, so this is a way we can offer additional capacity and continuity of care to providers and their patients to improve the wellbeing of our rural communities.”