Sydney, Australia, 27 May 2020: After receiving a grant from the Northern Territory Primary Health Network, the Brien Holden Foundation has been able to continue its important work in remote communities in the Northern Territory during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Brien Holden Foundation provides regular optometry services to Primary Health Care sites in remote communities through the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS scheme) in Darwin, East Arnhem, Barkly, and Central Australia regions of the Northern Territory.
With the onset of COVID-19, restrictions were put in place by local Land Councils and Government to protect vulnerable Australians, especially those in the remote Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory. This led to remote optometry services being cancelled from 23 March onwards.
We could not stop our important work and service to these remote communities, so we started putting telehealth plans in place to support our patients, alongside the regional eye care coordinators.
Northern Territory Primary Health Network (NT PHN) advertised a grant to support telehealth services in the Northern Territory during the pandemic. We applied, primarily to cover consultation time with optometrists, as unfortunately there has been no Medicare item made available for Optometry Telehealth during the pandemic. Currently, only primary health care face-to-face consultations for optometrists attract a Medicare rebate. Although optometrists are permitted to bill privately for telehealth services, this was not feasible or justifiable for remote patients.
The generous grant from NT PHN allows us to update hardware to better support telehealth. The grant also enables The Foundation optometrists to create training materials supporting primary health care staff remotely and to provide telehealth consultations at no charge to the patient or health clinic.
The service has been very well received by communities and the eye health coordinators who are helping to facilitate the consultations.
Through telehealth, the Foundation optometrists are assisting with:
- Triaging urgency of vision loss
- Consulting and diagnosing ocular conditions
- Replacing lost or broken spectacles
- Educating primary health care workers on techniques to assess eyes, how to use equipment available in their clinics
- Dealing with unusual symptoms such as flashes and floaters
- Provide advice on the correct use of spectacles and recommend replacement spectacles
- Continuing co-management of diabetic eye disease by use of retinal photography
COVID-19 has meant that many of us must change the way that we operate. We must think about creative ways to continue to serve our patients and communities. Thanks to the NT PHN, we have been able to seamlessly move to telehealth services and continue the important care of our patients. The Brien Holden Foundation hopes to continue to deliver telehealth services into the future and after COVID-19.