Te Whatu Ora - Health NZ Waitematā rolls out telehealth pods

May 2023

Te Whatu Ora – Health NZ Waitematā has been working on the roll-out of telehealth pods for the last two-and-a-half years after receiving funding from the Manatū Hauora Ministry of Health Digital Enablement Programme. It launched its first community telehealth pod in Helensville in July 2022.

The project is going well to-date - bridging a gap for those who might otherwise be unable to easily travel to their non-urgent medical appointments and who do not have adequate internet access at home.

Two of the pods are currently in the trial phase – the one in Helensville and another in Wellsford. Discussions about the placement of a third pod at another community location are ongoing

Many patients have already embraced telehealth. Between 23 March and 3 July 2020, Te Whatu Ora delivered more than 26,500 virtual appointments in Waitematā, compared with 1246 for the whole of 2018. This equates to patient savings of nearly 100,000 kilometres in travel and $4 million in travel costs and lost earnings.

The large pods comfortably accommodate up to four people - depending on furniture configuration. They are private and secure with frosted and soundproof glass. Each is technology-enabled with full internet connection and fitted with an iPad device used by the patient for their safe, private and confidential telehealth appointment.

Telehealth facilitator Charlie Aiken says user-experience is important to ensure patients are comfortable with the pods and likely to keep using them.

“It’s important to make sure the pod is easy-to-use, reliable, safe and clean, with good local support,” he says.

Patients are provided with step-by-step instructions to join their consultation via the email or text message received prior to their booked appointment. The administrator at the medical centre or hospital is available to assist, if required. At the end of their consultation, patients also have the option to complete a survey on the iPad, if they have time.

Charlie says one patient who lacks access to reliable internet or mobile data coverage at home used the Helenvsville pod twice within a four-week period and reported significant time savings. The patient had a one-hour consultation with a consultant and a one-hour follow-up appointment with an additional service.

”Travelling to North Shore Hospital for both appointments would have involved a return journey of 120km, taking approximately three hours, depending on traffic,” Charlie says.

“The patient instead spent 60 minutes travelling to and from the pod.

“The pod offers reliable technology, a safe and comfortable purpose-built space and no waiting times - reducing the time spent away from work or childcare arrangements,” Charlie says.