Written by Natalie McCloughan
The last six months have been tough on everyone, and so many things we take for granted and consider “normal” have changed for better or worse until such time as we can get back to some semblance of normal.
One such big change has been the shift of many healthcare appointments to the virtual world.
Telehealth has been around for a long time, but until the COVID-19 pandemic, it had limited capacity and use due, in part, to the preference and need for face-to-face appointments. This rapid shift meant that our health system was not fully prepared to adapt in the way that it needed to.
We heard about the increase in purchases of surgical grade masks, other PPE and other necessities like ventilators, but little was said about a shift to virtual appointments and what that meant.
However, Medicare quickly adapted the MBS framework to include more flexibility with regards to telehealth services prior to the nation’s lockdown in March.
As you can imagine, hospitals, private health providers, doctors and allied health professionals, including those managing patients with NF, were left scrambling to adapt to a very foreign way of operating. This was all happening while also adapting to working from home, remote learning and social distancing.
As expected, there were teething problems with an en-masse shift to platforms not designed to hold the weight of the health system at once, let alone having the wider workforce and community working remotely. It therefore put pressure on the telecommunications networks.
Along the way the challenges that telehealth has always presented have become more apparent, and new ones have risen too. Less expectedly though, there have been benefits to this virtual mode of appointment delivery which has resulted in a shift in thinking within the health industry that will likely see telehealth incorporated into medical practice into the future.
With the effects of the pandemic extending for months rather than weeks, in many instances there have been no immediate plans for a return to in-person appointments. Lending strength to the idea that telehealth may be here to stay at some level.
With that in mind, we thought it might be time to take a look at telehealth in more detail for families impacted by NF, and what you need to know for future appointments.
You may have already had a telehealth appointment or two (or even lots) for your ongoing monitoring and management of symptoms, but many people have also deferred their appointments waiting for a time when in-person appointments can go ahead.
We recommend going ahead with scheduled telehealth appointments as there are several benefits (aside from those relating to COVID-19):
It allows you to keep a relationship going with your clinical team so
You know where to turn if anything changes
Your team can keep across any changes to your condition and intervene early if necessary
Any questions can be answered and concerns can be addressed with a follow-up plan put in place to:
Attend in person if physical examination is required
Attend your local GP with specific requests
Referrals can be made to other specialists
Present to ED
Have scans booked and undertaken
It can be done from the comfort of your own home (or wherever works for you), which also means travel time is eliminated from appointments, so they are easier to work around
Costs for regional and remote families are reduced as only urgent appointments need attendance in person.
The approach taken during appointments is often more holistic rather than just the nuts and bolts stuff covered in clinic appointments.
These benefits obviously don’t eliminate the constraints with this delivery model. For example, a doctor cannot view or touch neurofibromas or perform an eye exam.
However, clinicians have found ways to engage within the space to get the best outcome for their patients.
- It might be that they ask you to send them a photo of any concerning NFs so they can review them for you.
- They may test eye movements while you are looking at the camera
- Asking you specific questions or to use objects around home to assist with assessments to determine whether further testing is required at this time.
In summary, while telehealth does have the drawback of not allowing for a physical examination or the use of equipment such as ophthalmoscopes to complete assessments.
The doctors can gather a lot of information from a Telehealth appointment to track how you’re going and make future plans. This is particularly so if you have uncomplicated NF and just need to check in from time to time.
While some of the NF Clinics are starting to transition back to face to face appointments slowly, telehealth is still being utilised in all clinics and the feeling is that this will continue into the near future.
Please reach out to your treating team for specific information about your next appointment and how it will run.
See our CONTACT US page for clinic contact details