Hopes new telehealth database can ease pressure

Morgan Liotta

7/04/2020 1:22:07 PM

A GP-developed database aims to inform patients of their telehealth options and help overloaded health services amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Daniel Epstein.
Dr Daniel Epstein wants to ease the pressure on overloaded medical services.

GP and researcher Dr Daniel Epstein is in the process of developing a simple database of GPs and other health professionals in Australia who are offering telehealth services.
The main objective is to build a central tool to help patients find which GPs are delivering telehealth services and to help GPs delivering telehealth to be found.
‘Telehealth solves many of the practical issues in Australia of access to healthcare for many rural and remote communities, as well as those that face very long wait times,’ Dr Epstein told newsGP.
‘It is also very practical in [terms of] setting a physical gap from our health workforce and vulnerable patients from risk in a crisis, for the benefit of our patients and keeping our primary care workers safe, as we have the highest occupational exposure risk of anybody.’
Since the recent Government telehealth measures, all patients during the coronavirus pandemic are eligible, but it is up to the GP or healthcare professional whether they provide the service. Dr Epstein is hopeful the database will ease the pressure off services overwhelmed with patient requests, as well as guide patients to the appropriate services they require from the outset.
‘There is a significant extra burden of administration placed on practice reception staff with requests during times of such drastic changes and system stress,’ he said.
‘Simple databases are an effective way to reduce friction and make it easy for both patients and doctors.’
Dr Epstein also stresses the importance of patients knowing what their options are for telehealth to ensure they are following strict social-distancing measures and not visiting a clinic if they are potentially infected.
‘It is important to keep our health workforce well … and to keep our chronic disease patients at home. Thirdly, it is important for surge workforce flexibility in a pandemic,’ he said.
In addition to healthcare providers’ details, projected features of the database include information on coronavirus developments and appropriate triage processes.
‘We are going to collect the minimum required to enable a patient to find a provider, details of the easiest way to book an appointment, [as well as] ensuring the doctor is registered and there is a way for us to contact the doctor if we need surgery requests [which we will not make public],’ Dr Epstein explained. 

‘We may be able to deliver through this database up-to-date COVID-19 related information, specific telehealth evidence and triage best practice advice to ensure the best treatment is being delivered.
‘For example, teaching how to assess breathlessness with a ROTH score to have an evidence-based way to measure oxygen saturation over the phone.’
Dr Epstein is anticipating the database will pique government interest and reach the health workforce outside of general practice.
‘It would be best for patients if we could accumulate resources on specialists and allied health as well,’ he said.
‘It may also serve as a key tool to deliver surge workforce care to areas requiring primary care.
‘We could, for instance, deploy many urban GPs into rural areas for triage via an organised database or help smaller pacific islands in times of crisis.’
The Federal Government has expanded the telehealth eligibility criteria to include all GPs, specialists, mental health and allied health professionals to enable them to bulk bill phone or video consultations with all patients in a bid to help contain the rapid spread of coronavirus.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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