(Australian Associated Press)
Pregnant women have embraced telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, with almost one in ten antenatal appointments in Australia proceeding virtually in the pandemic’s first six months.
The federal government introduced Medicare-covered telehealth consults for antenatal services in March 2020 as public health restrictions were first imposed and concepts like social distancing became familiar for the first time.
Though the pandemic caused a slight dip in the number of antenatal health services reported in 2020, the embrace of telehealth nearly made up the difference.
There were around 120,000 fewer face-to-face antenatal consults nationwide between January and September 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
But there were around 91,000 telehealth appointments between March and September – one in ten of total appointments.
The number of face-to-face services was around 10 per cent lower than the same period the year before. All up, the pandemic caused a reduction of only about 2 per cent of antenatal appointments.
The data is contained in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s new report, ‘Antenatal care during COVID-19, 2020’, released on Tuesday.
The services include consults with doctors, nurses and midwives. Telehealth can be either by telephone or video-conference.
“Antenatal care is an important part of pregnancy monitoring. Facilitating ongoing visits with a midwife and/or doctor assists to promote healthy lifestyle choices, and screens for and manages health problems for both mother and baby,” AIHW spokesperson Bernice Cropper said.
Telehealth was most popular throughout the country during April and May, when it accounted for 15 per cent and 13 per cent of the total antenatal health services respectively.
It peaked again and higher in Victoria after June, when that state endured a lengthy lockdown. By August, around one in five antenatal care services in Victoria were telehealth services.
The data also showed a notable increase in pregnancy-related ultrasounds in the third quarter of 2020.
The number of ultrasounds was 11 per cent higher than the average between January 2018 and September 2020.
The AIHW says the reasons for the boost are yet to be investigated.
“The increase could reflect some health care providers increasing monitoring in to response to potential consequences of COVID-19 infections or service disruptions,” the report states.