GPs have been asked to move towards having 70 per cent of their consults done virtually - a step designed to drastically reduce in-person contact and guard against Covid-19.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners has reportedly asked the country's doctors to work towards the target from tomorrow.

The college is developing resources for both doctors and patients, to know what to expect when a visit is done over the internet and not in person.

"Telehealth" is the use of communication technologies to deliver health care when patients and doctors aren't in the same location. For example, illnesses can be diagnosed through a secure video conference system.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has introduced an alert system as the country fights Covid-19.

Not all patients will be suitable or able for virtual consults, but health authorities are hoping the majority can be seen online - keeping the chances of the virus spreading to health professionals at the front-lines to a minimum.

It's possible for a number of people to take part in videoconferences, including members of a patient's whānau.

The goal to have more GP consults done virtually reflects a concern that health workers on the frontlines could become sick themselves. The health system's capacity is expected to come under extreme strain in the coming weeks.

The Ministry of Health had already been working on a national directory of practitioners who can use telehealth, and that work will be crucial now.

Dr Ruth Large, an emergency physician in the Waikato who chairs the telehealth leadership group, said on Twitter that the 70 per cent goal was do-able: "We can do this, not immediately but very rapidly".

The College of General Practitioners has been asked for comment.

New Zealand is at level two on a newly introduced alert system - meaning Covid-19 is "contained but risk of community transmission growing", and human contact must be further reduced. All people aged over 70 - more than half a million people - or anyone with compromised immune systems, are now asked to stay home.

GP clinics are urging people to tell them in advance if they think they may have Covid-19. Photo / Nicholas Jones
GP clinics are urging people to tell them in advance if they think they may have Covid-19. Photo / Nicholas Jones

Drive-through hubs for testing coronavirus have been set up around New Zealand, with full information and advice to anybody who thinks they may need to be tested available through a Government website.


When booking a GP appointment people are now asked about their recent travel history and whether they have possible symptoms, and warning notices have been taped to clinic doors. People who think they may have the virus are asked not to turn up at GP clinics.