Wairarapa District Health Board deputy chairman Dr Tony Becker sees potential in developing phone consults for rural areas with limited internet connection. PHOTO/ALEYNA MARTINEZ

ALEYNA MARTINEZ
aleyna.martinez@age.co.nz

Wairarapa medical professionals are looking at installing free internet hotspots in rural communities strong enough to handle video consultations between doctors and patients who live in rural areas.

During covid-19, the benefits of video calling presented an opportunity to upgrade traditional health systems, Wairarapa District Health Board deputy chairman Dr Tony Becker said.

“The old-fashioned way of doing everything in the medical centre is not working for everybody.

“Now that we have come out of covid-19, there are still a whole bunch of people that would prefer a video consult.

“Beforehand, if there’s any pre-work or bloods, ECG, that would be worth doing prior, so that when they come in to see us, we have a more complete picture of what’s going on.”

The DHB heard it was one way for patients to maximise the cost of their doctor’s visit and save time and money on travelling to the clinic.

The board said there was potential for “health data hotspots” and chief executive Dale Oliff said she would like to see the DHB foot the bill for the internet used during video consultations, instead of the patient.

On Monday, Becker told the board that while delivering a video consultation to a woman last week in Riversdale, the connection was so poor that “we both decided it wasn’t working and she ended up just driving in”.

Becker said there were members of the Wairarapa community who also worked during general practice hours, such as shearers or forestry workers, and once they had finished work, coming to the doctor was the last thing they wanted to do.

“We’ve done a little bit of work, looking into possibilities to utilise the schools out there because they have good internet going into them,” Becker said.

Bridget Canning from WIZwireless said the reason why the internet reception was unsuccessful at Riversdale Beach was because the signal is “not as good”.

She said there were many fibre cable internet options for people in rural areas and doctors and patients should pre-check theirs before trying a video consultation.

“A good way to test the connection is to check Netflix and YouTube, if it can handle that, it can handle a video call with a doctor,” Canning said.