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GPs move to digital first

Sunday, 22 March 2020  
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Picture: Royal NZ College of GPs president Samantha Murton editor Rebecca McBeth


New Zealand GPs have been asked to do a virtual consult with every patient before seeing any in person.

The Royal NZ College of GPs says that patients who need in-person appointments will still get them, but GPs have been asked to rapidly move to doing more of their consultations by phone, email and video. 

The government recently committed $20 million to increase telehealth capacity for general practice and community providers as part of its Covid-19 response.

As of 23 March, New Zealand was on Covid-19 Alert level 3 with plans to move to Alert level 4 in 48 hours, meaning people must self-isolate at home, except for accessing essential services.

College president Samantha Murton says it is important to keep vulnerable patients safe by reducing the number of people in GP waiting rooms.

"We’ve asked all our GPs to immediately switch to doing a virtual consult before an ‘in person’ one,” she says.

"We have not taken this decision lightly, but we have spoken with many of our health sector colleagues and Māori partners, and we are confident this is the right action to take at this time.”

Murton says family doctors in Italy, where the virus has spread rapidly in the community, have shared their learnings with New Zealand and reducing non-essential in person consults was a key message.

"Every practice will work out a system that works for their individual circumstances, and we have recommended contacting their patients to explain how their own system will work,” she says.

"These are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. We are at a crossroad. If we do not act immediately, we will lose an important opportunity to help control this virus."

The NZ Medical Association says it supports the RNZCGPs as a way of protecting vulnerable patients and the frontline health workforce.

As of September 2019, Ministry of Health figures show around two-thirds of practices were offering a portal, but Ministry of Health figures from September 2019 show only 29 practices were using video conferencing at that time.


However, patient portal providers spoken to by report that GPs have already been increasing their uptake of virtual services such as video conferencing.


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story, please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.

Read more news:
Telehealth gets $20 million injection
DHBs’ digital services ramping up


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