Coronavirus: Doctors urged to move to online consultations

Doctors around the country are being told to shift to virtual consults, according to an email issued by the Royal NZ College of GPs. 

From Monday, GPs are being told to do as many phone, email and video consults as possible to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"We believe it is important to keep vulnerable patients safe by reducing the number of people in GP waiting rooms," says president Dr Samantha Murton.

"These are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures. We are at a crossroad. If we do not act immediately, we will lose an important opportunity to help control this virus."

Patients who need to see their GP in person, like for example the elderly, will still be able to do so - but will have a 'remote' consultation first.

"We want patients to be assured that continuity of care will continue. Many of our elderly patients will continue to need care if they are in their homes and this is a way that we can look after them as well," Dr Murton says.

"We recognise that other health concerns continue on around us and the provision of care for everyone needs to be timely and safe."

She adds evidence from Italy shows reducing face-to-face consults at GP clinics is crucial to avoiding the spread of COVID-19.

The call is backed by another doctors' group, the Medical Association, which says it's necessary as community spread of COVID-19 is likely already happening.

"There is a very high probability that it is already being spread. We have situations where people are not self-isolating," association chair Dr Kate Baddock says. "That is a recipe for disaster."

Dr Murton agrees.

"I haven't heard any detail that there is community spread. However, we are deeply suspicious that that would be happening."

And today, Wellington doctor Dr Kelvin Ward intercepted the Director-General of Health as he left his daily media briefing to personally hand him a petition.

It warns New Zealand could be the next Italy and calls on the Prime Minister to enact alert level 4 immediately.

"The stories out of Italy are just horrific. It's like a warzone. and if we are complacent like other countries have been then that's going to happen here," Dr Ward told Newshub.

Some bold calls to lock down the country now - before it's too late.