Coronavirus in Ballarat: What will telehealth mean post-COVID-19?

TUNING IN: Dynamic Kids team leader Brianna Edgar practises telehealth with her daughter Chloe as the clinic adapts amid pandemic restrictions.

TUNING IN: Dynamic Kids team leader Brianna Edgar practises telehealth with her daughter Chloe as the clinic adapts amid pandemic restrictions.

VIDEO consultations has proved a game-changer for Ballarat allied health professionals who were forced to quickly move online with other businesses and organisations for care amid the pandemic.

For some in Ballarat this was about embracing what was the seemingly inevitable, pandemic or not, but what they have started realising is telemedicine's greater potential in the region.

The concept is not new to Ballarat, particularly in Ballarat Health Services for programs like Victorian Stroke Telemedicine which offers access to a network of Melbourne-based neurologists outside business hours.

When it comes to allied health, experts told The Courier telehealth was unlikely to ever replace face-to-face treatments but it could prove a handy option.

KEEPING CONTINUITY FOR CHILDREN

Dynamic Kids took what had been a six-to-12-month prospect to have telehealth running within a fortnight of the state's lockdowns. The clinic has had to be diverse and creative in its approach, catering to children in speech therapy, occupational therapy and psychology.

Staff researched similar offerings for rural Australia and those used overseas then took the plunge, adapting to whatever online platform families were most comfortable using.

Dynamic Kids director Julie Warren said children were really responsive but services needed a lot of support from parents, particularly with young children, and in play and alternate equipment for speech and occupational therapies. The clinic did buy some tools to help families.

Psychology, while it might seem straightforward, needed a safe space - free from siblings listening in.

Ms Warren said her team had learnt how to improve services along the way and while telemedicine might not work for some families, it had helped the majority of families.

Kids have been able to continue their therapy through this time. Developmentally some children may have poorer outcomes if they had to take an extended break from treatment.

Julie Warren, Dynamic Kids director

"Kids have been able to continue their therapy through this time. Developmentally some children may have poorer outcomes if they had to take an extended break from treatment," Ms Warren said.

"The other exciting thing is it is hard to get paediatric OTs in the region outside Ballarat, like Ararat, Melton and Bacchus Marsh and we have families travelling here to see clinicians. This has allowed families to come here less and just be reviewed in person.

"For some families who can't travel or can't afford to travel, this is a way to provide services to those kids who would otherwise miss out on OT or speech sessions."

TAPPING INTO NEW WAYS TO MANAGE PAIN, EXERCISES, STUDENT LEARNINGS

Multi-disciplinary clinic Lake Health Group has been adopting telehealth for consultations where possible to save its patients from having to visit the clinic amid lockdowns.

Sports physiotherapist Joanne Kemp, who has a special interest in hip injuries, has been taking video consultations from patients across Australia.

Sports physiotherapist Joanne Kemp before COVID-19 times.

Sports physiotherapist Joanne Kemp before COVID-19 times.

Lake Health Group practice manager and dietitian Kerri Gordon said for the most part, the team had used video and phone calls as a way to better manage their patients' conditions or concerns.

"Physiotherapy is a hands-on profession but it's been great for people who have wanted advice for injuries and exercises or those in the high-risk age brackets for COVID-19," Ms Gordon said.

"I've used it but podiatrists it doesn't really work for. Telehealth hasn't been a replacement but it's been good for us to make referrals and follow-ups for people at risk."

Telehealth hasn't been a replacement but it's been good for us to make referrals and follow-ups for people at risk

Kerri Gordon, Lake Health Group

Ms Gordon said conferencing platforms had also proven vital to student interns, who would otherwise be unable to undertake observations and make assessments as part of their university study requirements.

The service gave Lake Health Group options to consider for post-COVID life.

EYE-OPENING POSSIBILITIES

Major optometry business OPSM is also considering advantages it has uncovered.

OPSM, which spans Australia and New Zealand, has been offering tele-optometry amid lockdowns. Like Lake Health, this has allowed optometrists the chance to make assessments and referrals when needed for eye health concerns and saving clients unnecessary trips out of the home.

EYE-OPENER: Emergency eye care and replacement glasses via tele-optometry has given OPSM plenty to consider in possible accessible and after-hours treatment.

EYE-OPENER: Emergency eye care and replacement glasses via tele-optometry has given OPSM plenty to consider in possible accessible and after-hours treatment.

OPSM eyecare and community director Peter Murphy said this had ranged from helping a mother with advice for her child's conjunctivitis to surgery referrals for clients experiencing early warning signs of retinal detachment or people with contact lenses stuck under their eye lids.

Mr Murphy said the service not suited to those needing prescriptions or retinal scans at this stage but it had opened possible extra care opportunities.

"Something we're finding more and more is it has really helped people who can't get into the stores we have had open, like people with disabilities," Mr Murphy said.

"We've offered emergency services extended hours and while the demand has not been massive we could look to maybe take advantage of the different time zones. If you are in Ballarat with an eye concern in the evening, you might be able to talk to an optometrist in Perth."

HEART WARNINGS IN LOW CHECK-UP RATES

HEART Foundation chief medical adviser,and cardiologist Garry Jennings fears Ballarat people were putting their lives at risk by skipping check-ups to their general practitioner.

There was a 10 per cent drop in GP visits from people with chronic disease in March, new Medicare Benefits Schedule data shows.

Professor Jennings, a former Ballarat Health Services board member, said this region had long had high-levels and risk factors for chronic diseases and the advances in telemedicine offered greater options for people to manage their conditions.

The message now should be you need to be more careful looking after your condition with a health professional and , with all the precautions in place, a doctor's is probably one of the safest places you could visit.

Professor Garry Jennings, Heart Foundation chief medical adviser

Professor Jennings said while not yet proven, the drop in GP visits was likely to be due to health fears for visiting clinics but this was not always necessary now.

"The message now should be you need to be more careful looking after your condition with a health professional and , with all the precautions in place, a doctor's is probably one of the safest places you could visit," Professor Jennings said.

He said most pharmacies were also delivering, so there were lots of ways to get care.

Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.

This story Screening possibilities for telehealth when it comes to post iso life first appeared on The Courier.