A GP’s perspective of a regular cardiology teleclinic
Interviewer: How long have you been conducting regular telecardiology clinics in your practice?
GP: We first set up our telecardiology clinic approximately 12 months ago, complete with all the necessary hardware and external medical devices such as blood pressure monitors, electrocardiographs and stethoscopes. We commenced with the regular clinics just over 10 months ago.
Interviewer: What were your reasons for setting up a regular telehealth clinic?
GP: A large proportion of my patients suffer from cardiovascular diseases, obesity and diabetes. Some of them have families and work responsibilities during the week and it is a burden for them to travel long distances regularly to meet with a cardiologist. A few of our patients have had recent heart operations and therefore require cardiology check–ups every 3 to 6 months. I spoke with these patients and asked them how they would feel conducting video consultations with a cardiologist and they were enthused that they can do the check–ups from the comfort of their regular practice. I knew a cardiologist in Geelong who offered regular telecardiology clinics so it seemed logical and time–efficient to set it up.
Interviewer: What were your first steps in setting up the regular clinic?
GP: I first contacted the cardiologist to check his availability and schedule and he agreed to take on several patients from our practice. Finding the right equipment, technology and deciding on the infrastructure was a challenge but in the end we decided to go with hardware infrastructure. We already had an ECG machine in the general practice if the cardiologist would like one performed. We purchased the necessary camera, screen, audio equipment and trolley stand and made sure that our peripheral devices such as our stethoscope could plug into this hardware. We conducted a series of educational seminars for the practice nurses and staff to help them understand the medicolegal responsibilities, equipment and infrastructure requirements and Medicare billing processes, and to give them the opportunity to clarify any questions.
Interviewer: what are the benefits of having a regular telehealth clinic?
GP: I’ve seen many benefits of our regular telecardiology clinics, not just to the patients but also to the cardiologist, practice staff and us as GPs. Clearly, better access to specialist advice without requiring them to take large amounts of time off work and travel long distances was the greatest benefit to our patients. It cut down the disruption to their families and to their work. It also increased adherence to therapy as the patients no longer needed to wait or travel long distances for a follow up with a cardiologist. Sometimes they would keep postponing their appointment because it was inconvenient to make the trip, so there was a delay in starting appropriate medications. Now they only need to come here, and are able to be given a prescription in the practice by one of the GPs, as recommended by the cardiologist during the video consultation. Many of them also felt more relaxed and comfortable as they were in familiar surrounds. Obviously, there are also the financial incentives that go with telehealth services.
Interviewer: where do you see the field of telehealth going? What would you like to see in the future?
GP: I really believe that telecardiology can make a big difference to patients with cardiovascular diseases living in rural and remote areas. I would like to see this field expand to areas of Australia that are even more rural and remote than this town. I believe with more investment in better internet speeds in the most remote places, we can successfully implement telehealth and improve health delivery to every Australian.