A groundbreaking trial is set to commence this month in response to concerns that rural women are not accessing effective treatments for their debilitating menopausal symptoms. A new telehealth service will allow women living in remote areas to speak privately with a doctor via their phone, mobile device or computer.
Women will be offered up-to-date advice to treat menopause symptoms such as:
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Mood disturbances
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sexual problems
- Urinary issues
The program will be subsidised by a funding grant during its pilot phase and will be delivered by WellFemme, a new telehealth service founded by Dr Kelly Teagle. Dr Teagle is a general practitioner based in Canberra who specialises in women’s health.
“I’m very concerned that many women in rural and remote areas with debilitating menopausal symptoms simply can’t access the help they need,” Dr Teagle said.
“They may live a long way from the nearest GP with no choice regarding which doctor they see, and that doctor may not be experienced or confident in treating menopausal symptoms. There may also be cultural or communication barriers if their GP is from a non-English speaking background. The best situation is where women have a good GP who can confidently manage their menopausal symptoms, but WellFemme is there for all those women who don’t.”
Aside from assisting women who are struggling with menopause, Dr Teagle also wants to help other GPs.
‘I think a lot of GPs struggle with how to manage their menopausal patients and they often don’t have the necessary time. It can be very time consuming to do a thorough assessment of a patient because there are so many different areas that menopause can cause impacts on,’ she said.
‘I really want GPs to see WellFemme as a resource to help support them. I’m here if they would like to contact me for support in managing difficult patients, or they can make a referral through the website.’
Most Australian women reach menopause (their last period) between the ages of 45 and 55, but around 10 percent will be earlier or later than this and about one percent are under 40. The symptoms of menopause can start many years before a woman’s last period and can go on for many years after. Around 80 percent of women will experience symptoms at some point, sometimes quite severely, yet surprisingly few are on effective treatments.
Current evidence suggests that over 350,000 Australian women may be enduring moderate-to-severe hot flushes despite the availability of treatments that are now proven to be safe and effective. Dr Teagle believes that this is due to a combination of misinformation and a lack of access to responsive health services.
“Even among some doctors there is still a lingering belief that hormonal treatment is unsafe, despite overwhelming evidence that it is safe and beneficial for the majority of perimenopausal women,” Dr Teagle said. “When women are given access to correct information and supportive health services, they get better.”
A 45-minute WellFemme consultation includes a comprehensive medical and lifestyle assessment, treatment recommendations and a written report for clients to share with their GP. The service uses secure internet technology that allows women to visit an expert menopause doctor “face to face” without ever leaving home. Those without reliable internet can also use the service by phone.
“There is no Medicare rebate for services like WellFemme yet… we’re working on that,” said Dr Teagle. “The good news is that WellFemme has received a funding grant which will make consultations more affordable during our pilot phase.”
Women will be offered a discounted consultation in return for completing a quick online questionnaire, which will be repeated three and twelve months later. Women can still access WellFemme’s services without being part of the trial however. Research will be used to show the Federal Government the importance of specialised telehealth services to women in rural and remote areas.
Dr Teagle is optimistic about the future of telehealth in the bush. “I’m so excited to be able to offer this service to perimenopausal women who feel like they have no decent treatment options,” she said.
“Hopefully WellFemme will be the trailblazer for a wider range of future telehealth services and help bring some much-needed healthcare equity to Australians in rural and remote areas.”