Waikato DHB says it has come up with a national first by launching a smartphone app that lets people have consultations, text their GP and schedule appointments.
It will be especially beneficial for people in rural areas who often have to take days off work to attend their appointments, Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray says.
The Virtual DHB, powered by HealthTap, also has a wealth of health information available on the app, all approved by doctors, and means people can check out symptoms, conditions and treatments and get health information on their smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
The DHB is gradually signing up doctors from all its services across its five hospital sites, and is talking to GPs and other community organisations about opportunities this service can offer their patients too.
The Virtual DHB supports the Government's recently launched NZ Health Strategy with its themes of people-powered healthcare, care delivered closer to home and using emerging technologies to deliver better results and revolutionise the way we work.
"We already have clinicians from dermatology on board, cardiology and renal are next and we will be working with all our other services to implement this initiative where appropriate, this year," Mr Murray says. "If your doctor is registered on the system and they deem it appropriate for your particular treatment, it means you can choose to have a video conference call or text chat with the doctor via the app from your home or work rather than travelling to hospital."
Patients will also be able to use the app to book an appointment with their specialist, share a medical photo with them, send a direct message to their doctor like a text, and view their health record on the app. A multidisciplinary team of professionals who are caring for the patient will all have access to the shared care plan and can discuss the patient's care with each other.
Patients can access health information, tips and the latest research to help them manage their own health effectively.
Using the app, people can ask a question and receive an answer from a database of millions of responses all approved by doctors registered on the system.
"Over 60 per cent of people in the Waikato DHB district live in rural locations and all too often patients are travelling long distances for a short consultation. Offering patients the option of a virtual visit via video or text will help to give everyone access to our services no matter who they are or where they live.
"We want to put patients in control of their healthcare and give them a greater say in their own care, how it's organised and when and where it's delivered. Today most people expect to be able to do their banking and shopping online, using smartphones and tablets, and people are already using Google to look for health information. Patients want services delivered in different ways, and we want to treat them like customers and provide them with services that are convenient and health information they can trust," Mr Murray says.
Residents can sign up to the New Zealand service from June 1 by taking photo ID along to the inquiry desk at Waikato Hospital or to the DHB's other hospitals at Thames, Te Kuiti, Tokoroa or Taumarunui. To be eligible, people need to be over the age of 18 and be covered by the Waikato District Health Board services.
The Virtual DHB will be on site at the Fieldays event at Mystery Creek on June 15 to 18, where eligible people who bring their ID will be able to sign up to the service to be in to win a free Samsung tablet, courtesy of Spark. There will also be opportunities to talk to a doctor over a video chat on the day.
It used to cost Ian Telfer up to $900 to go and see his doctor.
He lives in Whitianga and when he needs to see his specialist based at Waikato Hospital he takes a day off work, spends about five hours in a car and a couple more in the hospital, waiting and getting assessed.
But now the Waikato District Health Board has introduced its new virtual service, he's able to not only work, but crack a beer and make himself comfortable before sitting down and having his consultation over the phone.
The Virtual DHB, powered by HealthTap, has loads of health information available on the app, all approved by doctors, and means people can check out symptoms, conditions and treatments and get health information on their smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
Mr Telfer, 51, has booked two appointments using the app so far and says it's "brilliant".
"As I live in Whitianga it's a 450km round trip to the hospital to have an appointment so it's fantastic. I'm a contract carpenter and it would mean a whole day off work, and seven hours at least to get over there and back, by the time you sit in a hospital for an appointment; about 450kms at $1 per kilometre, plus a loss of a day's wages - so about $800 to $900 it costs me to go over there and have an appointment."
He's also a self-confessed techno-phobe but says he was still able to work out how to use the app.
"I find it's very easy to do. I'm 50-something years old and I'm not exactly technical on Skyping and things but I'm not illiterate on it either. I can use it quite easily, it's no greater learning curve than anything else."
An added bonus was it guaranteed an appointment with his doctor, rather than a stand-in or intern.
"I'm not getting that kind of rubbish now, I'm getting through to the doctor I want and not filling up their waiting rooms and it's very good."
Mr Telfer says for his last appointment, he was able to work the whole day before making the 5.30pm appointment from his lounge.
"I came home after a day's work, had a shower, opened a beer, had my bath then had my appointment with my GP. I mean, it's so easy."
However, he says it's no silver bullet and there will still be some appointments he has to travel for.
"It can't replace all appointments but it can replace three out of four; the check-ups and the follow-ups, the trips over there when you don't really have to be going. It can replace a lot."