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What to expect from your first telehealth appointment

6 minute read
Woman and her child having a telehealth appointment with a health professional.

To help our members stay healthy and well while social distancing, we're now extending coverage to include telehealth appointments as an alternative to heading into a clinic1. This welcome advancement means you can continue accessing the healthcare you require from the comfort of your own home.

When it comes to booking a telehealth appointment for the first time, you might have a few questions. Will I get the same result as an in-clinic consultation? Will I be speaking with a real person or a robot? How does it all work?

So, we reached out to a range of health professionals who offer telehealth consultations to find out eight things you can expect from your first appointment - and they all promise, there’s not an Optimus Prime, Rosie or R2D2 in sight.

1. You should receive all the information you need to set up prior to your appointment

For most telehealth appointments, you’ll be asked to join a video conference with your health professional. If you’re new to video conferencing, fear not – your practitioner should provide you with all the information you need to set yourself up for a telehealth consultation once you’ve booked your appointment.

“Prior to the telehealth consult, we provide all clients with a guide on what to expect and how to prepare. The main things you’ll likely need are a mobile, tablet or computer with a camera and an internet connection,” Rebecca Haslam Dietitian and Founder of Nutrient Nation says.

2. You might need to find yourself a quiet space

Occupational Therapist Kieran Broome explains that it’s important to find a space in your house in case you require some privacy. If you’re more comfortable in a space with your children or housemates around that’s fine too – the aim is to be somewhere that you’ll be able to get the most out of your telehealth appointment.

“On the day it can help if you’re in a well-lit room and if there aren’t too many distractions, but don’t stress if there are distractions, like kids running around the home. These things are part of your reality, and can give your occupational therapist a sense of what life is usually like for you.”

nib Group Medical Advisor and GP, Dr Hamish Black explains that for general practice appointments, you might be required to show identification. “We generally start the telehealth appointment asking for three points of ID, (like name, date-of-birth and address) and then we’ll do a brief verbal consent to treatment,” says Hamish. Hamish explains that getting verbal consent before beginning a consult is a good way to ensure you understand and are OK with continuing the telehealth appointment. Although it’s not a requirement (NSW Health explains that consent can be simply implied through participation), some doctors prefer to have this verbal agreement to remove any ambiguity or confusion.

4. Telehealth is also an option for the kids

It’s not just adults who can take advantage of the benefits of telehealth; video consultations are also available for children and teens – and as a parent or guardian, you might be asked to be involved in the appointment.

Kieran explains, “When it comes to occupational therapy, if the appointment is for a child, the parent or caregiver will likely need to be very involved; whether it’s doing guided activities with the child or taking onboard the feedback from the therapist. Depending on the child’s age, we can also work directly with the parent or caregiver to build their skills in supporting their child.”

Are you pregnant, or have a toddler? At nib, we offer our members access to the Nourish Baby program. Free of charge to eligible members, this online program can be completed on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Nourish Baby aims to help prepare parents on what to expect during the early stages of pregnancy through to the first three years of your child’s life, using evidence-based education. Find out more through our Health Management Programs page.

5. Your goals and outcomes should still be the same

The beauty of a telehealth appointment is that where telehealth is appropriate for the condition being treated, as well as the patient accessing telehealth, most patients will have the same outcomes from their consultation as what they would in a face-to-face clinic.

Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at Pain Options, Darren Beales explains, “The telehealth consultation will be very much like a regular physiotherapy visit, just over a video link rather than face-to-face. The appointment itself does not change a lot, just the mode of delivery changes.”

Kieran reiterates that telehealth is an option for ‘how’ health professionals deliver their service and whilst ‘what’ they deliver may differ for some circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily change the level of care they offer.

Speech Pathologist at Dee Wardrop Speech Pathology and Professional Support Advisor at Speech Pathology Australia, Nathan Cornish-Raley agrees.

“Many patients receive the same standard of care through telehealth that they do onsite. As a matter of evidence and policy, research and professional associations have not identified general clinical populations that should not be seen through telehealth. Instead, allied health professionals work with individual clients to determine if their needs can be met through telehealth.”

Woman in her kitchen organising a telehealth appointment

6. You may be asked to do a physical assessment

Just like in a clinical setting, you may need to complete a physical assessment during your telehealth consultation. However, it’s likely your health professional will use tools you’ve already got in your home, like scales or a tape measure to do the assessment.

Kieran explains that in an occupational therapy consultation there are some key differences when doing a physical assessment,

“If I need to look at you doing things or moving, or to assess parts of your house like your office space, I might ask you to prop your smartphone on a windowsill or chair so I can see you better. I could also ask you or someone with you to measure something while I watch to check and give feedback.”

When it comes to speech pathology assessments, Nathan explains that your health professional may arrange to send across extra equipment for you to use.

“For specific procedures (such as swallowing assessments), you may need to use certain tools or resources, but your speech pathologist will work with you to access needed resources.”

7. International students and workers may need to do some research

Hamish encourages international students and workers to check with their GP before making an appointment to make sure their system is set up to accept patients without a Medicare number. “When a GP is billing for telehealth, the billing number is itemised under the bulk billing category. This can be tricky for international students or workers who don’t have a Medicare number and means that some clinics may not be able to provide telehealth services to them.” However, more and more GP clinics across the country are now offering telehealth services, so even if your usual doctor isn’t able to provide this service, with a bit of online research, you’ll have plenty of other options. “There are so many GP clinics offering telehealth that if you don’t have a Medicare number, I’d recommend looking on Health Engine or Whitecoat and reaching out to the clinic before making your appointment to confirm they’re able to help,” says Hamish.

8. You’ll probably get some homework after your appointment

Just like a face-to-face appointment, after a telehealth consultation you should receive the resources that your health professional has suggested – whether it be a list of exercises, a website with more information or a video tutorial on a technique you can practise.

Nathan explains, “In the clinic where I work, speech pathologists typically share activities or advice on how patients and families can continue to practise at home.”

Rebecca agrees, “As a dietitian, we provide a post-appointment summary to our patients of the consult which includes any meals plans and resources. We also provide a goal setting worksheet which details what you need to do each day as well as barriers you might need to overcome to reach your goals.”

Although you may not be able to venture out to your normal in-clinic appointments, by using telehealth, you can access a range of health professionals without leaving your home. Keen to find out more about telehealth and how you can claim benefits using your nib health cover? Check out our article, How to access and claim on telehealth appointments.

1nib will cover appropriate treatment using telehealth for eligible members as a temporary measure that will be in place until 30 June 2020, however we’ll be reviewing the pandemic situation to determine if this date should be extended. Subject to your chosen level of cover, policy exclusions, waiting periods and limits. For some services, only individual telehealth consultations are covered for telehealth.

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