6 Key FAQs about telehealth in Australia
Virtual care, otherwise known as telehealth, continues to become an integral part of Australia’s health ecosystem, and a critical enabler for supporting personalised, patient-centric care in rural and remote communities. In this article, we take a look at 6 key FAQs you need to know about telehealth and what it means for your practice.
1. What is telehealth?
The Australian Department of Human Services (DOH) defines telehealth as ‘when eligible patients access specialist, consultant physician or consultant psychiatrist services via videoconferencing.’
2. What are the types of telehealth services in Australia?
According to the DOH, there are two types of telehealth services:
- specialist-end: where practitioners hold a consultation over video.
- patient-end: where health professionals provide face-to-face clinical support to the patient during a video consultation with a specialist. These health professionals could be:
- medical practitioners
- nurse practitioners
- practice nurses
- Aboriginal Health Workers
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners
3. Who is eligible for telehealth services?
Only patients in eligible areas can access telehealth services. There must be at least 15km driving distance between the patient and specialist.
In order to check eligibility, you will need to check telehealth eligible areas at DoctorConnect on the Department of Health website.
4. What are the benefits of telehealth?
Digital health has been widely recognised as high on the agenda to support rural and remote care, and in particular, remote indigenous communities. Innovations in virtual care can enable patients in any location, urban, suburban and rural, the ability to access healthcare in more flexible ways than ever before. Patients can minimise travel time, effort and expense, while receiving personalised care in their own home. This convenience can help alleviate a lot of patient and caregiver burdens, opening up more time to focus on rest and recovery.
“There are so many ways now to practice medicine ‘outside of the consulting room’, which is particularly useful for to support rural and mental health patients, who are either physically or psychologically unable to reach a face-to-face consultation,” says Dr Charlotte Middleton, GP and Chief Medical Advisor at MedicalDirector. “Plus technological innovations are popping up every day to complement virtual care in Australia. For instance, there are technologies that can match patients with clinical trials or to psychologists. Technology is becoming more accepted as an effective way health professionals can connect with patients to enable better health outcomes.”
5. How can cloud technology support telehealth?
The flexibility of cloud health software means it has the flexibility to help support healthcare professionals who are providing remote and rural care. For instance, as a busy psychiatrist, Dr Leonard Chin runs his practice from the George Smith Memorial Hall at a church in Paddington, where his patients are generally underprivileged and socio-economically disadvantaged. He also tends to patients in rural and remote locations such as Darwin, where he travels almost every fortnight.
“I essentially have three different work spaces. Three days a week, I run a private clinic which is run from a church hall, and it’s a bulk billing service for financially disadvantaged patients. On the other days, I am either doing telehealth consultations from home for patients in rural and regional areas, or flying up to Darwin where I visit patients face-to-face.”
After conducting a range of searches for the best cloud-based software to support his practice, Helix by MedicalDirector, was Dr Chin’s go-to solution that enabled him to access all his patient records while on the move, while streamlining his day-to-day tasks and organising his busy schedule.
“Getting up and running was straightforward, and I received training and support which was very helpful,” he said. “When I’m out and about, I can access the information from anywhere. Helix also helps optimise my workflow with the appointment booking system, which also helps me save valuable time to tend to more complex patient care.”
6. What does the future hold for telehealth?
Forrester’s recent study, Virtual Care Enables The Digital Health Imperative, predicts virtual care is set to disrupt today’s outpatient visit and chronic disease management program models. It stresses digital business strategy professionals must start implementing and integrating virtual care technologies to survive as healthcare moves from analog to digital business processes.
The proliferation of telehealth within the Australian health system is evidenced further by the Compact, with the ACRRM and the Government planning to collaborate to foster innovation and wider the adoption of digital health strategies. Importantly, the Compact recognises the potential for telehealth to enhance rural health care but not as a replacement for face-to-face services.
“Harnessing the potential of technology to enable ideal healthcare in Australia is especially important for those living in rural and remote areas where access to healthcare and face-to-face patient-clinician consultations are harder to come by,” says Dr Middleton. “Telehealth technologies such as video consultations can help ease workforce challenges as distance no longer impedes the delivery of care – freeing up time, money and resources.”