Telehealth is a health service that’s delivered through phone calls or video conferences.
You and your child can use telehealth for:
- one-off appointments – for example, GP appointments
- longer-term health care – for example, a series of sessions with a psychologist
- therapy sessions – for example, therapy for children with autism, disability and other additional needs.
You can consult many health professionals using telehealth, including GPs, nurses, allied health professionals like speech pathologists or occupational therapists, and specialists like paediatricians, psychologists or psychiatrists.
You can use telehealth on its own or combine it with in-person appointments.
Sometimes telehealth might be the only way to get a certain service. And sometimes you might be able to choose telehealth. It’s always a good idea to ask what your options are so you can choose the option that suits you best.
Benefits of telehealth
Telehealth has many benefits. For example:
- You can still consult a health professional about your child even if you live too far away for an in-person appointment.
- Telehealth can make it easier to fit health care appointments into family life. For example, you might not need to take children out of school for long periods to travel to appointments, although they’ll still need to attend telehealth appointments with you.
- You can save time and money because you don’t have to travel.
- If your child sees several different professionals, telehealth can make it easier for these professionals to work together and share information.
What to expect at a telehealth appointment
Who should be at a telehealth appointment
Depending on your child’s age, you’ll probably attend the appointment with your child.
Older children can have part or all of their appointments alone. You and your child will need to give your consent to this. But even when older teenagers have telehealth appointments on their own, they might still want you there sometimes.
Sometimes telehealth appointments will just be between you, your child and the health professional. Sometimes other clinicians or professionals might be there. For example, a nurse practitioner or child and family health nurse might be at a telehealth appointment with a GP or paediatrician.
You can also choose to have a support person or an interpreter with you at the appointment.
You can choose who’s at the appointment. And you can tell the health professional if you’d prefer for someone not to be there.
What to take to the appointment
You might be asked to share documents like reports, photos or videos. Your health professional will let you know in advance if you need to do this.
What to do at a telehealth appointment
At the start of the appointment, it’s a good idea to tell the health professional what you want to cover.
You might also need to be more actively involved in a telehealth appointment than you would be in an in-person appointment. If your child is young, you’ll do most of the talking or explaining. Older children might still need your help to interact with the health professional.
And remember that the health professional can’t read your and your child’s body language on the phone. It might still be hard even if they can see you on video. So you and your child might need to clearly tell the health professional how you’re feeling, whether you have concerns, and when you don’t understand something.
How security and privacy are handled at telehealth appointments
The video conferencing platforms that health professionals use are secure and protect patient privacy. Sometimes, your child’s health professional might need to record an appointment. But they won’t do this unless you’ve said it’s OK.
If you have concerns about privacy it’s best to talk about them with your health professional.
You can get the most out of a telehealth appointment by gathering the information you need and talking with your child beforehand about what to expect.
Deciding whether telehealth is a good option for children
There are some things to think about when you’re deciding whether telehealth is a good option for you and your child.
Video conferencing technology
You usually need access to a computer, tablet or smartphone and an internet connection that can handle video calls. If you don’t, contact the health service. Some services might give you the option of going to a local community health service to have your telehealth appointment. Others might lend you an appropriate device.
Your child’s condition
Telehealth works better for some conditions than others. For example, it’s not possible for a doctor to look inside your child’s ears using telehealth. But telehealth can be adapted. For example, a local nurse could do an examination and send the results to your child’s doctor, or you could combine telehealth with in-person appointments.
If you’re not sure how telehealth will meet your child’s needs, speak to the health care service about your concerns before the appointment.
Children’s interactions with health professionals
Some children interact easily with clinicians using telehealth, because they’re used to speaking to people online or on the phone. Other children find it harder. Health professionals will understand if your child is slow to warm up in a telehealth appointment. Even if it takes a while for your child to get comfortable, the appointment can still be a worthwhile experience.
Medicare funding for telehealth
Medicare has funded telehealth for remote and rural patients for many years. More people started using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Temporary medicare rebates for telehealth during the pandemic will become permanent.
If you’re not sure whether your child’s telehealth service is covered by Medicare, just ask the health care service. If you have private health cover, check with your insurer to see what they’ll cover.