3 telehealth lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic28 October 2020
Australian health professionals have offered telehealth visits for years, and the concept is decades older. However, COVID-19 made telehealth services critical as cities and towns shut down. It was now a lifeline from patients to doctors in maintaining continuity of care.
The adjustment was not easy. Patients were sceptical that they could receive the same level of care from their GP online that they could in the office. And while some doctors have been successfully treating patients for years online, an overwhelming majority did not and were similarly sceptical of being able to offer a correct diagnosis.
There was also some uncertainty about whether Medicare would reimburse for telehealth services as the pandemic ebbed. MBS telehealth services were permitted temporarily as an extension of the government’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit community transmission.
That’s no longer the case: as of 1 January 2022, more than 200 types of telehealth services are permitted on an ongoing basis. With remote healthcare now a permanent fixture in Australian healthcare, it’s time to start thinking about your communications strategy, keeping in mind these lessons learned during the pandemic.
1. Digital health care works.
While patients and doctors were rightfully sceptical about telehealth, COVID-19 showed that virtual visits could be as effective as face-to-face visits. Telehealth shows promise in mental health and aged care and has the added benefit of improving access for patients who might not otherwise be able to make it to their GP’s office.
Patients are also becoming much more comfortable seeking primary care via phone or video. While most still prefer seeing their doctor face-to-face, an overwhelming majority of all age groups, including 56% of Australian seniors polled, said they were comfortable using telehealth services. That is surprising, especially considering many seniors struggle with technology adoption.
As a result, no matter what demographic a doctor serves, they should offer a telehealth option to their patients.
2. Telehealth leaves no one behind.
Australia’s healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but it has some unavoidable issues. Australia is 4,000 km long and the sixth largest country in the world, yet two-thirds of the population lives near metropolitan areas. Like many other countries, there is a shortage of doctors across Oz — and often, the best care is limited to major cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
COVID-19 showed us that telehealth could provide a wide variety of services virtually, easing the doctor shortage that plagues Australia and many other countries. While remote and rural areas have long depended on fly-in/fly-out clinics, a remote medical practitioner can handle many of these visits even quicker. Telehealth frees up these critical clinics for more pressing health issues.
But telehealth isn’t only beneficial for those in the Outback: telehealth can reduce the strain on doctors and clinics in Australia’s biggest cities.
3. A stable internet connection matters.
COVID-19 forced us to work from home. While the good news was that it helped improve virtual healthcare, some feared that the increased bandwidth would swamp providers and leave underserved Australians behind. Fortunately, neither fear has materialised.
Internet service providers have long prepared for the increased bandwidth needs of video conferencing and file sharing. The Australian government is spending $50 billion to build the National Broadband Network, a fibre-based network that will eventually reach every Australian.
Complementing existing satellite, fixed wireless, ADSL, and cable broadband options, many Australians have the stable internet connection necessary to use telehealth services effectively.
But for Australians to connect to healthcare virtually, providers must ensure they have a reliable and fast connection to the internet.
How Business Telecom can help
Business Telecom can ensure your office has the broadband internet connection necessary to offer telehealth options to your patients. Our NBN internet plans will get you the speed required for glitch-free telehealth consultations, while our business phone systems help keep your office connected.
Telehealth is here to stay. With Business Telecom, you’ll be ready.