Embracing telehealth: understanding the barriers to adoption in Australia
With healthcare systems around the world under increasing strain from ageing populations, rising rates of chronic disease and widespread skills shortages, telehealth is being heralded as a potential silver bullet to help precious medical resources go further.
In simple terms, ‘telehealth’ refers to the use of technology to provide certain healthcare services virtually, eliminating the barrier of distance and care location. However, telehealth goes far beyond videoconferencing and better communication. Through ongoing remote monitoring of biopsychosocial indicators, a small, highly trained group of clinicians can proactively support a large population of patients, by only focusing on those with a risk of clinical deterioration at a point in time. The economics of today’s patient-to-clinician ratios are being buckled with these new models of care, leading to better health value outcomes. In an environment where health expenditure trajectories are unsustainable, these solutions are not a luxury. These solutions are being applied not only in hospitals, but also to deliver care to a patient’s home.
The Future Health Index 2019 found that nearly half (48%) of Australian healthcare professionals have seen telehealth positively impacting patient experience in the last five years. Furthermore, 36% of Australians are open to these types of remote consultations for non-urgent care.
Telehealth is becoming an essential solution to safeguard the quality of care, providing a better experience for patients, as the demand for care increases driven by the increased life expectancy of Australians. The possibility for elderly, chronically ill and less-mobile patients to receive a high standard of care while remaining in their homes not only prolongs their independence and quality of life, but also reduces their burden on limited hospital resources.
Overcoming barriers to adoption of telehealth
While about one-third of Australians believe the healthcare system fails to provide them with access to medical care and available doctors, many (56%) have chosen not to visit a healthcare professional, even when they had a medical reason to go, the Future Health Index 2019 has found.
Telehealth can help address this, and ensure patients are getting the care they need, when they need it.
Two key issues that discourage Australians from visiting healthcare professionals are a lack of time (17%) and difficulty/inability to schedule an appointment (13%). Digital health solutions like telehealth are optimal solutions to resolve these challenges, yet adoption remains slow because of a lack of a suitable reimbursement model. This is driven by a health funding environment that is activity funded rather than prevention focused, and a Medicare scheme that is driven by physical consults that require review.
The benefits of virtual care are undoubtedly significant; however, it is essential that Australia takes the time to identify and understand the barriers to effective adoption. Telehealth is the ultimate untapped tool for connecting people, data and systems so that everyone, wherever they are in the world, can access timely care, which will enable them to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
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