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Speaking my language: Waikato GPs use technology to make healthcare more accessible

Two multi-lingual doctors in Hamilton are removing the barriers of language and distance for their patients using SmartHealth, Waikato District Health Board’s (DHB) online healthcare service.

Dr Dilawar Singh and his wife Dr Lakhminder Sandhu recently opened the Hamilton Lake Clinic, a general practice service on Pembroke Street. Both doctors speak three languages – English, Hindi and Punjabi – and understand a fourth, Urdu.

Their language skills have seen a high number of Indian patients register with their practice, many from outside of Hamilton. 

“For people in the Indian community, talking about health is an emotional issue,” says Dr Singh. “Being able to see a doctor and discuss personal or complex health problems in their own language means they can easily express themselves and explain what they mean.”

“They feel more comfortable and can also better understand what their doctor says to them.”

Many of Dr Singh’s out of town patients also face the obstacle of travel, costing them extra time and money to access care in their own language. One patient who lives in Te Kuiti has to travel to Hamilton every time they want to have a doctor appointment, because they can’t understand their local doctors.

To help reduce those barriers for patients, Dr Singh and Dr Sandhu have started offering online consultations using SmartHealth.

“It made sense to offer the benefits of online consultations to our patients,” says Dr Singh. “It’s just like a normal GP appointment, but allows them to speak to someone in their first language and avoid the travel.”

Patients registered with SmartHealth can book an online appointment with their GP at the Hamilton Lake Clinic during regular hours, paying as they normally do to see their doctor.

“We are registering lots of our patients with SmartHealth and have already done several online consultations. It’s working fine and the patients are happy too,” says Dr Singh.

Waikato DHB Clinical Director Primary and Integrated Care, Dr Damian Tomic, says a number of Waikato GP practices are starting to offer their patients online consultations using SmartHealth.

“What Dr Singh and Dr Sandhu are doing is a great example of how SmartHealth can really improve access to health care for Waikato patients,” says Dr Tomic.

“It builds on the DHB’s free SmartHealth out of hours doctor service on evenings and weekends, which has been very popular with people needing healthcare outside of normal clinic hours.

“Ultimately it’s about working smarter and connecting people with healthcare services in a way that works for them.”

SmartHealth update. 

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