Although telehealth has been available for many decades, the COVID-19 experience has increased awareness of how it can be applied among health service providers, patients and society overall. Increased telehealth uptake across Australia during 2020 has helped to improve access to health services for those in rural and remote communities.
Reliable video-based consultations are the next best thing to having a patient in the consulting room and, in certain settings, can be a more suitable type of consultation for patients. For the health provider, being able to see a patient while communicating during the consultation enhances rapport and helps with non-verbal cues about their overall health and wellbeing.
A video link that works to provide more choice in remote areas
In 2014, the Australian Government funded video telehealth service, healthdirect Video Call, a safe and secure alternative to in-person consultations which is designed, built and run specifically for health consultations.
The service connects people across Australia to health care, usually via a standard internet connection. It works well in remote areas with limited internet connectivity and has been tested with remote communities in Western Australia on satellite connection. It takes up minimal bandwidth, all calls are fully encrypted and no patient data is retained after the consultation.
Northern Territory psychologist, Zoe Collins, has used healthdirect Video Call since 2018 to streamline care for a transient fly-in, fly-out population and for remote and very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal communities. Zoe has been working with Northern Territory Primary Health Network (PHN) to develop a tele-psychology practice to address gaps in mental health services in remote Northern Territory (NT)areas and beyond.
Living in Katherine, Zoe likes that she can change the upload/download quality of her video call to adapt to her remote setting and variable internet connection. She finds Video Call an easy-to-use, health-specific platform and has embedded it into her website as a consistent entry point for her patients. She uses the inbuilt whiteboard for sketching therapy concepts and relationships between thoughts, feelings and actions and the dynamics in close personal relationships.
Zoe says clients living in small communities may prefer not having to walk into a physical practice for a consultation, so her video-only practice protects their anonymity.
Huge adoption of telehealth in 2020
When COVID-19 reached Australia, although in-person consultations remained available, many medical practices took up healthdirect Video Call to provide virtual consultations for the safety of themselves and their patients. This was a pivotal moment in telehealth for Australia, a country where telehealth has major benefits - particularly in rural and remote settings.
In 2020, Video Call reached a milestone of one million online consultations since launch, driven by the COVID-19 uptake and MBS COVID-19 telehealth subsidy. More than 450 organisations now use healthdirect Video Call in Australia with 7,900 online clinics active across both primary and tertiary healthcare sectors.