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Health Analysis

Telehealth services boom throughout pandemic

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Over 99% of Australian GPs are now offering telehealth sevices (Screenshot via YouTube)

Statistics have shown rapid growth in telehealth services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many GPs now embracing the technology. Paul Budde reports.

LAST YEAR, I reported on the success of telehealth. I can now tell that the service will be a permanent feature of the medical service in Australia. People including myself have been arguing for this for more than 15 years, but it required a crisis such as COVID-19 to see it implemented and become a key feature of the Australian health service within 18 months.

The main reason why it took so long to implement telehealth was the resistance of the medical practitioners. In the end, it became a forced adaptation. It was a paradigm shift for many, carried out during a time of intense pressure. According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), 99% of GPs now offer telehealth services.

Recently, I was contacted by Coviu, a leading telehealth platform used by the Australian Government. Over 3.8 million telehealth consultations have now been performed in Australia using this platform. They obviously have been able to gather a wealth of data and they allowed me to share this information with you.

I am sure that now the practitioners are on board, we will see rapid growth of telehealth in other sectors of healthcare as well.

As the figures from Coviu speak for themselves, I present them to you as I received them:

Telehealth overview 2020-2021:

 

  • Australia hit 40 million telehealth consultations by November 2020;
  • Ten million telehealth services had been delivered to 3.2 million Australians in regional, rural and remote areas by November 2020;
  • 25% of all MBS consultations were through telehealth from March 2020 -March 2021;
  • In March 2021, 93% of MBS telehealth consultations were by phone with just 7% by video;
  • 56 million MBS telehealth services were delivered to 13.6 million patients with over $2.9 billion Medicare benefits paid from March 2020 - April 2021;
  • More than 83,540 providers now offer telehealth services;
  • 49% of Australians are likely to use telehealth in the future; and
  • 44% of Aussies would switch GPs to one that offers video telehealth.

Teleconsultations:

 

  • In Victoria, GP telephone consultations increased from 0 per week in 2019 to a median of 95,357 per week in 2020 while video consults increased from 38 to 2,540;
  • In NSW, GP telephone consultations increased from 0 per week in 2019 to a median of 42,850 per week in 2020 while video consultations increased from 4 per week to 805;
  • Coviu research shows that just 3% of GPs offered video telehealth in the last 12 months; and
  • Of GPs who use video, 19% say they find it more personal, 26% say it helps them assess the patient and 18% say it aids them in undertaking a physical exam.

Patient satisfaction levels with telehealth:

 

Patient demand will fuel ongoing telehealth provision. Patients certainly want to continue telehealth consultations. They love it.

 

  • The ABS says 30% of people prefer using online health services more now, compared to before the pandemic;
  • According to Coviu stats, 70% of Australians believe GPs should offer video telehealth (though 41.5% say their GP doesn’t offer it);
  • Their research shows that:
    • 90.2% of Australians believe video telehealth saves time;
    • 66.7% believe video telehealth makes healthcare more accessible;
    • 72% believe video telehealth is comparable to in-person care;
    • 15% believe video telehealth is better than in-person care.
  • ABS data paints a similar picture of telehealth satisfaction levels among people who had used telehealth in the four weeks before April 2021:
    • 63% said it was convenient;
    • 42% said it saved time;
    • 38% said telehealth saved them the hassle of travel.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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