Using telehealth during the Covid-19 pandemic in SA

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  • Telehealth has grown considerably during the Covid-19 pandemic 
  • It is no longer used mainly by rural health practitioners seeking second opinions
  • Telehealth is ideal for services like mental health care as mental practitioners don't need to do physical examinations 

Telehealth is not new to the medical field, but with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has grown, says Dr Desmond Mathye, who is the chairperson of the Physiotherapy, Podiatry & Biokinetics Board.

Mathye was speaking during a webinar on regulating the practice of telehealth during the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, hosted by the National Department of Health.

What is telehealth? 

Mathye explains that telehealth is the use of electronic and telecommunications technologies and services to support healthcare delivery “at a distance”. 

He says that telehealth is not new to the medical profession as rural health practitioners often used it to seek second opinions from colleagues in cities.

“In the past, there was an initiative by the Department of Health to bring telemedicine to the country, and telemedicine then was meant to address the inequalities in the healthcare services, and to improve accessibility and availability of healthcare and specialised healthcare services in remote and under-resourced areas,” Mathye says.

Using telehealth during the pandemic

The purpose of the telehealth during a pandemic is to ensure that both the patient and health worker are being protected from the virus, Mathye explains.

He says that telehealth has expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic. Services like self-screening on apps have grown. He adds that it is also used for follow-up and remote monitoring of symptoms, chronic patient management, home delivery of medication and for coaching and support for patients on self-management. In physiotherapy, it is helpful for patients who don’t need intensive therapies, such as in the case of breathing exercises.

Mathye adds that telehealth has also grown in the mental health profession.

“Psychiatrists and the psychologists, most of the time,  can do full assessment without having to touch the patient. Not having to do any form of physical examination, they can do a full assessment of the patient remotely, and are able to start treatment,” he says.

He adds that healthcare workers should familiarise themselves with the regulations of their professional bodies on how to go about providing telehealth care services.  

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