Telehealth reduces inequities

Researchers at the University of Auckland have shown that telehealth could reduce health inequities for Māori whānau.


Māori health sector researchers interviewed Māori patients and health providers about the use of telehealth versus consultations during New Zealand’s first March 2020 lockdown. “We knew telehealth had the potential to improve access, but we wanted to hear first-hand what was useful,” explained Associate Professor Matire Harwood, from the university’s Department of General Practice and Primary Healthcare. “It turned out it enabled tino rangatiratanga; patients felt able to self-determine when they can access care and who they can talk to.”


They also said they felt listened to and it was a partnership, she said. Interviewees reported telehealth saved travel time and costs, and was more convenient to fit around work and whānau commitments. “On the other side, health literacy was a challenge, with doctors asking patients for their temperature or blood pressure, assuming people had thermometers at home. Some patients said there were words used they hadn’t heard before,” she added.


Referring to the government’s decision to fund Māori and Pacific health providers directly this year to provide fairer and more comprehensive healthcare, A/Prof Harwood said they could use this to develop more innovative ways of working using telehealth. “A colleague reminded me of an Alaskan model where, in rural areas like the East Coast, there are medication vending machines. After a telehealth consultation, the patient gets a code and gets their medication from the vending machine.” However, such initiatives need be supported by whānau having access to phones, good broadband, mobile coverage and affordable data, as part of a national communications plan, she said.


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