Waikato patients are being offered the chance to speak to hospital doctors from home on their smartphone with a new 'Virtual DHB' service.
Waikato District Health Board says its new service - the first of its kind in New Zealand - will save many patients from having to travel to hospital appointments.
Telehealth initiatives currently enable doctors and others to talk to patients at other hospitals over a video link.
Waikato DHB said its new service went further, enabling patients who have been discharged to consult their hospital doctor over their smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, through an app known as HealthTap.
Dr Ruth Large, the clinical director of virtual care at the DHB, said it brought health into people's own homes.
"Right into your pocket really. That's the cool part about it, that you've all of a sudden got this resource which can sit in your most-used item of equipment."
Dr Large said the DHB could not reach Coromandel patients with Telehealth, but it could with the app.
"At the moment we can't get to the top of the Coromandel with Telehealth, but we can with this sort of technology. We can get down into the south Waikato, all of those places where people have difficulty accessing. Why should you have to travel three hours for somebody to write you a prescription?"
Whitianga man Ian Telfer has trialled the system. He said he no longer had to drive 450km to Hamilton to see his skin specialist, and it was saving him money.
"It's got to be between $700 and $900 it would cost me to go over there for a day, and if you times that by four or five trips a year, it's a significant amount of money out of your family's income."
Mr Telfer said he could use the app to choose an appointment time with his skin specialist that suited both of them, and he could do a day's work and sit down with a drink at home before connecting with his specialist at the end of the working day, using his iPad.
The DHB said skin specialists were currently using the system, with other hospital medical specialists - such as cardiology - set to follow.
It also said it was talking to family doctors and other community organisations about opportunities that the service was offering.
DHB chief executive Nigel Murray said Waikato residents would be able to sign up for the Virtual DHB service from June by taking a photo ID along to the Waikato Hospital enquiry desk or to other DHB hospitals.
"Obviously patient safety and security is really important to us, so initially we are going to have to see people's photo ID in person at one of our hospitals. But we are working on setting up a secure online sign-up process that will be more convenient for people in the near future."
Dr Murray said 60 percent of people in the Waikato DHB's district lived in rural locations and often had to travel long distances for a short consultation. Using the Virtual DHB service, they would be able to book appointments with their hospital specialist, share medical photos with them, send direct messages to their doctor, and view their health record on the app.
A multidisciplinary team caring for patients would also have access to shared care plans and be able to discuss the patient's care.
Dr Murray said the goal was to put patients in control of their healthcare. "We want to give them a greater say in their own care, how it's organised and when and where it's delivered."