Thousands more South Australians are embracing the use of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, with sessions up by nearly 150 per cent.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said more than 17,500 sessions – including appointments – occurred from February to April, compared to about 7,000 for the same period last year. These calls were all longer than 10 minutes.

“The Government is laser focussed on delivering better health services for South Australians. We see technology as a key vehicle to deliver on that commitment,” Minister Wade said.

“It should not be a surprise that the expansion of telehealth services is part of our strong plan to protect South Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID-19 first emerged, we quickly identified the important role technology could play in protecting public health and reducing the spread of the virus.

“Since then we have pursued innovative ways to broaden the use of telehealth so more South Australians can receive their care from home.

“This includes providing videoconference consultations for people with cystic fibrosis, and developing new regulations to allow patients to receive digital copies of their medical scripts through a telehealth consult.

“We are proud to see South Australians embrace the telehealth platform and believe it will remain an important tool, even after the pandemic ends. We are determined to make our health services even stronger than before.”

To cope with the increase in demand, SA Health has introduced a second provider for its telehealth services.

The Women’s and Children’s Hospital Network (WCHN) has been expanding its use of telehealth in the fight against COVID-19 to connect patients and doctors.

WCHN Clinical Lead of the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Service, Dr Peter Muller, said the increased demand for telehealth has fast-tracked the introduction of remote screening appointments for women with complicated pregnancies, such as those carrying twins.

“With many people’s movements restricted due to COVID-19, platforms like telehealth are in more demand than ever because they can bring the specialist to the patient,” Dr Muller said.

“We can connect women at regional sites directly with a specialist in Adelaide so they can access their vital care and expertise without the burden of travel.

“The sonographer at the country health service is provided with a kit containing a laptop and an epiphan system which can relay the ultrasound video in high quality.

“When the sonographer performs the ultrasound, the specialist can view it in real time and offer verbal direction as the scan is being performed, before consulting with the patient and their health provider.

“While this service is being fast-tracked in response to COVID-19, we plan to continue to use it into the future to help more patients receive their care closer to home.”