Telehealth during and beyond COVID-19: listen to patients

Monday, July 20, 2020

‘Patients rightly expect that the positive benefits experienced with telehealth during COVID-19 will continue now and into the future’, says Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

The AHHA’s Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research has today released a Perspectives Brief, Providing telehealth in general practice during COVID-19 and beyond, by South Australian GP Dr Chris Bollen, and Deeble Institute Director Dr Rebecca Haddock.

‘Full credit is due to the Australian Government for broadening the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis. Health Minister Greg Hunt has also indicated support in principle for telehealth consultations to continue beyond September when the current arrangements expire’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘At AHHA we hope that in formulating future telehealth policies for general practice, the Government will listen to patients, and take into account what worked best for them in order to make lasting improvements to the system.

‘We also trust that the Government will specifically consider telehealth care models better suited to team care arrangements for chronic disease management, especially in older patients with multiple and complex chronic conditions.

‘And finally, we urge the Government to anticipate the opportunities that telehealth and other virtual healthcare methods could provide that will not only produce better patient outcomes, but help keep the whole health system sustainable’, Ms Verhoeven said.

Co-author of the Perspectives Brief, Dr Chris Bollen, said GPs were finding that their daily workflows had changed for the better through having telehealth consultation options as well as traditional face-to-face contact with patients.

‘Nevertheless, designing successful and sustainable long-term telehealth arrangements requires a detailed understanding of what matters to patients, which will also point to activities that can be safely discarded because they are of low value’, Dr Bollen said.

‘Our Perspectives Brief sets out six case studies that demonstrate “at the coalface” how telehealth can benefit GPs, maximise equity of access to healthcare, and support patients in developing their own health knowledge and skills.

‘Other considerations covered in the case studies are interoperability—or the ability of patient information systems to “talk” to each other—and adapting telehealth to team-based healthcare arrangements for people with multiple chronic conditions.

‘Governance and funding are also covered—and both require not only forethought, but the courage to rethink embedded systems that do not suit modern healthcare nor modern technology.

‘Neglecting or downplaying these factors can lead to “policy on the run” such as the recent “stage 7” telehealth decision by the Government where telehealth GP providers need to have an existing and continuous relationship with a patient—defined as seeing that patient in the last 12 months—in order to provide MBS-funded telehealth services.

‘While this may stop the “pop-up” online services opposed by doctor organisations, and limit opportunities for over-servicing, it will also be a huge barrier for rural communities where access to any GP can be a problem, for healthy people who infrequently see their GP, people whose local practice is booked out for weeks, and people who want to change doctors’, Dr Bollen said.

Ms Verhoeven said that governments and bureaucrats must recognise that ‘For personal reasons, people may also prefer to seek care away from their regular GP for some very sensitive matters’.

The Perspectives Brief is available here.

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.


Media enquiries: Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, AHHA, 0403 282 501