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New free out of hours online doctor service

Dr Damian Tomic

Photo: Dr Damian Tomic, a GP as well as Waikato DHB’s Clinical Director of Primary and Integrated Care, set up the new service.

Waikato DHB has launched a pilot of an online out of hours doctor service for people who can’t get to see a doctor easily in the evenings and weekends.

The service, which starts on 12 September for a six month pilot, is an extension of the Virtual DHB initiative, which already connects patients with their hospital doctor for a text or video chat through a website on their home computer or with the HealthTap app on their smart phone or tablet.

Dr Damian Tomic, the DHB’s Clinical Director of Primary and Integrated Care, who set up the new service, said: “People who live in our remote rural communities tell us that they have real difficulty accessing health services, especially out of hours, so we are delighted to be able to offer them this free service.”

Dr Tomic said anyone who is signed up to the Virtual DHB service will be able to access the online doctors for free Monday to Friday from 6pm to 11pm and Saturday, Sunday and public holidays from 8am to 8pm. They will be able to message the doctor through their home computer, smart phone or tablet wherever they are and initiate a video chat. Their phone provider’s normal data charges will apply.

“For many people in rural areas getting to an after hours service such as an Accident & Medical Centre is difficult. Even those who are able to get to the hospital can spend hours in the Emergency Department when their query could have been answered easily by an online doctor and this would free up ED for more urgent cases,” said Dr Tomic.

The online doctors, who will all be NZ registered GPs or Emergency Medicine specialists, will be able to write prescriptions in certain situations that can be faxed to the person’s local pharmacy to collect. The consultation notes will be sent to the person’s normal GP and will be available to view by the patient in HealthTap.

People who want to sign up for the service should take their photo ID along to the enquiry desk at Waikato Hospital or to the DHB’s other hospitals at Thames, Te Kuiti, Tokoroa or Taumarunui. Staff will then send an email this to the person who can then register with the Virtual DHB and download the NZ version of the HealthTap app to their smart device.

Those who sign up will also be able to use HealthTap’s other features:

  • Video or text consultation with their hospital consultant from home instead of travelling to the hospital, if it’s appropriate in their case.
  • Access to doctor approved health information about conditions, symptoms, procedures and treatments.
  • The ability to ask a question and view answers from a database of over three million responses from international doctors.

Dr Tomic said: “We want to remove the barriers to healthcare that many of our population face. They deserve access to free advice from a health professional where it’s safe and appropriate to do so. This service will add to the out of hours services already offered by some GPs and Accident & Medical Centres, but will be ideal for people who find it difficult to travel.”


Read more about Virtual DHB and the online doctors out of hours service here

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