Hot flushes, night sweats, mood disturbances, aching and painful muscles, sexual problems and urinary issues - these are just some of the debilitating menopausal symptoms experienced by women.
A new trial was launched this month in response to concerns rural women are not accessing effective treatments for these symptoms.
It will allow women living in remote areas to speak privately with a doctor via their phone, mobile device or computer and to receive evidence-based advice and treatment for their symptoms.
The program will be subsidised by a unrestricted commercial funding grant from Besins Healthcare during its pilot phase and will be delivered by WellFemme, a telehealth service founded by Dr Kelly Teagle.
Dr Teagle, a Canberra-based general practitioner who specialises in women’s health, has been developing WellFemme over the past 12 months and officially launched the service last month.
“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.”
Most Australian women reach menopause (their last period) between the ages of 45 and 55, but around 10 per cent will be earlier or later than this and about one percent are under 40, according to Dr Teagle.
The symptoms of menopause can start many years before a woman’s last period and can go on for many years after.
Around 80 per cent of women will experience symptoms at some point, sometimes quite severely, yet 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 said.
She believed that was 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 leaving home, however 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, who has started an e-petition for this.
“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 ($100 half price) in return for completing a quick online questionnaire, which will be repeated three and 12 months later.
Women can still access WellFemme’s services without being part of the trial.
Dr Teagle said the research would be used to show the federal government the importance of specialised telehealth services to women in rural and remote areas.
She 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.”
Women can book consultations online, or an optional free trial at wellfemme.com.au.