What to expect with your online GP/medical visits

26 April 2021

The importance of personal health and hygiene has never been highlighted as strongly before as now, with Coronavirus cases increasing daily, comes many new changes in societal norms. Although us Kiwis are doing a great job at minimising cases in New Zealand, it is always better to be prepared when we have to do things virtually again. Online medical visits or consultations has been trending due to the Coronavirus and while it is not a new option, for some it may be something unfamiliar. Be confident in using these services by checking out the quick guide we've created below.

What are online medical consultations? 

Online medical consultations or visits typically involve consulting your GP and/or other medical professionals through a secure video conference call. This is done from the comfort of your home using a suitable device with a camera, such as a laptop, tablet, desktop computer or even your phone. This video consultation method of ‘telehealth’ is the most common and supported form of remote medical service, but there are other options such as simple telephone calls without video as well. Other forms of online medical service are also becoming popular due to their efficiency, such as ‘store and forward’ types of service where you will send images of wounds, symptoms, and measured health data securely to your healthcare provider. This allows you to express your concerns when needed at your own discretion, and to receive quick responses as well as easy secondary reviews from your doctor. 

It is important to clarify that online consultations and services are absolutely not a perfect substitute for a real visit to the doctor; if you are seriously ill you will need to visit in person as soon as possible. 

The primary purpose of remote medical services is to improve accessibility to regular healthcare, improve the convenience of receiving healthcare, and to streamline the efficiency of normal healthcare visits. If you regularly visit your GP for health monitoring, have a minor issue to discuss, or live in a rural area, these online alternatives can be an excellent option to help reduce the hassle of healthcare. Further information about telehealth can be found at NZ Telehealth.

What about online pharmacies?

Online pharmacies offer exactly the same benefits as online medical consultations, being a more simple and stress-free way of getting your medication. The primary benefit of online pharmacy shopping is the ease of obtaining medication, as all it usually takes is to send your prescription to a provider. Online pharmacy services will fill your prescription as given as instructed, then deliver it straight to your door. As you can imagine, this eliminates many health risks in travel and frees up more time of the day for you to use. In many cases, your healthcare provider can also help organise these services if asked, and you won’t even have to lift a finger to get your prescription!

Where can I go to receive online medical consultations?

In light of COVID-19, due to urging from government, almost all healthcare providers are now offering remote primary care consultations, through online video call or telephone consultations as mentioned above. Your first point of contact should be with your currently enrolled healthcare provider or GP, who you would normally visit in person. Get in touch with either your GP, their clinic, or their organisation and ask for an explanation on what system they use as well as how to go about booking an online consultation. 

Booking virtual appointments can be found through your health provider's online portal and choosing your preferred time slot or directly contacting them for a scheduled date. The platform and methods used differ between providers and doctors, so keep in touch and see how they offer this type of service.

If this is not a service offered by your local clinic, do not despair. Many large healthcare providers have created unique online offerings, which operate as a standalone clinic but entirely online. One such example is Tend, which provides comprehensive medical services carried out completely online and without the need for you to change your enrolled doctor. Unlike many other offerings by physical providers, Tend is designed entirely focused on providing excellent online services only. Another good example is HouseCall, created by the well-respected primary healthcare provider Green Cross Health, which provides quality healthcare on par with its normal clinics. You may also want to consider looking for different larger clinics near your location that do offer online services, as well as making use of online patient portal ConnectMed to find practices and book appointments. 

The cost of online medical services usually do not differ from their in-person equivalent, and normal discounts or benefits such as those from a community services card should still apply. Confirm with your provider beforehand the cost of their services as well as payment methods and plans.

Where can I receive online pharmacy services?

To receive online pharmacy services, there are several options available. In many cases, your doctor will be able to refer your prescription to your local pharmacy after an online or in-person visitation. Check if your local pharmacy or another nearby offers delivery services, and prearrange this with your doctor so that your medication arrives at your doorstep. If your doctor cannot refer your prescription or if your usual pharmacy doesn’t deliver, don’t fret! There are many established providers that specialise exclusively in online pharmacy services, such as ZOOM Pharmacy or Larson Pharmacy. Simply send a photo or scan of your prescription to one of these providers, or ask your healthcare provider to refer it, and once confirmed it will be filled and sent to you within two working days. If you wish to speak with a pharmacist for advice or to clarify instructions about use, there will be staff available by telephone as indicated online on the website. 

Above all, take care to check that your prescription is correct when it arrives, as mistakes can occur just like in physical pharmacy visits, and ensure that you use a reputable licensed provider. 

As with normal pharmacies, online providers also offer subsidised prescriptions plans as supported by the government, so be sure to take advantage of these plans such as ZOOM Pharmacy’s free family prescription subsidy scheme. Additional promotions may be available such as free delivery and free sachet pack services.

What should I prepare before using these services?

A virtual visit is no different from in-person, so there is no need to prepare anything extra! Try to join the online meeting early and check that you have a stable internet connection, that your camera is displaying video clearly, and that your audio is working as well. Make sure to organise a quiet and private location free of distraction, where you can discuss sensitive topics as well as follow any instructions you may be given for diagnosis. 

Some things you may want to do beforehand is to prepare a list of questions, symptoms, and concerns you want to be addressed, and prepare any material you may want to show your doctor such as images or health data. Have a way of noting down your doctor’s instruction, advice, and warnings during the appointment, so that you don’t forget anything afterwards.

As always, be proactive in your healthcare and look after yourself!

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