Increasing numbers of Hamilton patients are chatting to their doctor via email as technology slashes the number of people left waiting hours to see their GP.
In August 713 emails were sent from patients directly to doctors working at three NorthCare medical centres, with an average of 142 being sent a week.
That's about 16 per cent of enrolled patients now communicating with their GP via email, with a further 80 per cent of patients having their issues solved via phone consultations.
The innovative method, adopted from the United States, has seen the number of face-to-face consultations reduce from about 25 per doctor, per day, to between 18 and 20, while increasing the overall number of interactions doctors are having with their patients.
The Midlands Health Network introduced the new model of care at the three centres in April 2011 and has since had interest from practices in Australia and Canada.
"It's kind of cool," chief executive John Macaskill-Smith said. "Because while we've stolen the idea from elsewhere, we've sort of started to build an alternative New Zealand model here in Hamilton."
The model was introduced after Midlands realised there was going to be a 40 per cent increase in demand for service as the population aged, but a 30 per cent reduction in workforce at the same time as their own workforce aged.
NorthCare Pukete Rd GP Dr John Morgan believed the system should be rolled out across the country and is on secondment for six months to talk to other Midlands practices about doing just that.
The model also allows patients to access their own health records online, with access to lab test results and other information recorded by their GP.
Dr Morgan said the model wasn't about keeping patients away from the medical centre, but providing them with more options to fit in with their busy lifestyles.
"There was some criticism at first that older folk weren't computer savvy, but many are - some are way better than me," he said.
Older patients, who didn't feel able to sit in a waiting room, also liked the option of having a phone consultation.
A survey conducted by Waikato University six months into the pilot programme showed 95 per cent of people rated their consultation time as extremely high.
Of the 15 per cent who had emailed their doctor, 86 per cent rated it as highly effective.
- Waikato Times