22 Mar 2020

Covid-19: GPs to consult patients online, over the phone

4:41 pm on 22 March 2020

GPs are planning to do most of their consultations online or over the phone from tomorrow.


Doctor Photo: 123RF

Many clinics were preparing for the shift this weekend.

It is part of a plan to limit the number of people sitting together in a waiting room as the government warns that people should limit their contact with each other.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

The College of GPs confirmed the move this afternoon.

Those who need to be physically seen by a GP will still be able to go to their clinic but in many cases will talk to their doctor over the phone first.

"In view of the government's suggested restrictions announced yesterday, we believe it is important to keep vulnerable patients safe by reducing the number of people in GP waiting rooms," said college president Dr Samantha Murton.

"We have not taken this decision lightly, but we have spoken with many of our health sector colleagues and Māori partners, and we are confident this is the right action to take at this time.

"We want patients to be assured that continuity of care will continue. Many of our elderly patients will continue to need care if they are in their homes and this is a way that we can look after them as well."

But Murton said some patients will still need in-person check-ups.

"I would expect all our GPs and anyone, nurse practitioners and nurses, who are doing online consultations or doing them via the phone will be very very cautious, more cautious than they would normally be."

Doctors could take up to a week to make the switch to remote consultations, she said.

Morton said family doctors in Italy had shared their experience with their New Zealand colleagues "and reducing non-essential in person consults is a key message that we can, and must, take onboard".

She said medical centres had been advised to communicate the changed approach to their patients.

"These are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. We are at a crossroads. If we do not act immediately, we will lose an important opportunity to help control this virus."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a four-level alert system to manage the risks and response to Covid-19 yesterday.

Under Level 3 of the Covid-19 alert system, primary care consultations would need to be virtual.

The country is still at alert Level 2 but many companies and organisations are already stepping up before tougher restrictions are mandatory.

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