Emergency doctors open for online calls


Emergency medicine is being taken online, thanks to a group of Waikato specialists who are offering consultations to patients across New Zealand.

Three Waikato Hospital colleagues have devised the Emergency Consult service, which is aimed at delivering 24-hour urgent care using a virtual platform created in Hamilton.

Emergency physicians provide online consultations to the general public, as well as to smaller emergency departments, nurse-run clinics, and pharmacies

Patients who register with the service only need a phone or device with a camera and a method of payment. A consultation costs $89 for adults or $49 for children 14 years and under.

Clinical director Martyn Harvey says they are seeing an increasing uptake from the general public, while also forging links with pharmacies and smaller EDs around the country.

Harvey, who has worked for more than 20 years in emergency medicine, started the business with Giles Chanwai, also a long-serving Waikato Hospital emergency physician, and Jenni Falconer, Waikato Hospital’s former ED nurse manager.

Harvey says the service’s roster of six doctors are qualified emergency medicine specialists, whose “day job” is working in big emergency departments.

“A lot of smaller hospitals around New Zealand and around the Waikato – Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Thames and places like that – don’t have that level of specialists. We are an alternative, by providing some surge capacity.”

They are working with Kaitaia Hospital, providing extra cover for its doctors with nurses able to tap into Emergency Consult’s services.

Their services are also being enlisted at Anglesea Pharmacy, which includes a Health Hub managed by a clinical nurse specialist. The pharmacy has established a dedicated consult room ready for walk-ins who present with illness or injury that require attention from an emergency doctor, with the nurse or pharmacist sitting in on the video call.

Meanwhile, Harvey says the number of general patients is in the high single figures over a 24 hour period, and their numbers have been doubling every few weeks.

Emergency Consult deal with a range of issues, from patients with minor injuries or infections to holidaymakers who have left their prescriptions at home. Occasionally, they will refer to hospital specialists or to an emergency department.

The platform was developed for them by Hamilton-based Website Angels and is end to end encrypted. “None of the data that goes into there can be hacked.”

Harvey sees the virtual offering as an adjunct to face to face consultations with the patient’s own GP, and differentiates them from online GP startups.

“We differ from them a little bit in that we’re not GPs,” he says. “Having a good relationship with a good GP is really beneficial. So we don’t want to take over that space.”

Harvey has seen up close the hazards of early adoption, with the $16 million SmartHealth virtual health scheme launched by Waikato DHB proving a dismal flop.

“There’s plenty of things  to learn from there to try and avoid those sort of pitfalls,” Harvey says.

“But ultimately, I think they’re probably just over-stretched a bit much and thought the buy-in was going to be a bit more rapid than it was. And so it was, unfortunately, a big failure.”

He is enjoying the work. “I don’t know that I would want to work virtually all the time,” he says. “It’s just a different way of working. You’ve got a little bit more time. You still connect with people like you do when you’re seeing them in person, and you can do it from home.

“It’s a really good foil for doing some work within the hospital system.”


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