Virtual health care needs to be part of a new—not old—health system

Friday, July 24, 2020

‘The rapid uptake of telehealth during COVID-19 has highlighted the opportunities offered by virtual health care technologies’, says Alison Verhoeven, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive.

‘But virtual health care—that is, care at a distance—is more than using telephone and video calls as a substitute for traditional doctor-to-patient face-to-face care.

‘To limit virtual healthcare in this way is to squander the opportunity for healthcare reform and a better health system in the longer term—and that is the main message from our report published today, The effective and sustainable adoption of virtual health care.

‘The current implementation of telehealth has certainly met some short-term and important needs in the health system—but to achieve lasting system transformation will require sustained policy efforts across big-picture areas such as funding, governance and workforce.

‘So far, we’ve substituted GP and outpatient clinic visits with phone calls and videoconferencing; we’ve made some limited functional improvements such as e-prescribing; and in some places, such as in “virtual hospitals”, there has been some redesign of tasks and processes’, says Ms Verhoeven.

‘However, a forward-looking approach to virtual health care would involve planning to embrace the opportunities which may be available, for example, through remote monitoring, data-driven quality improvement, artificial intelligence and other innovations, to create new models of care.

‘To maximise the long-term benefits of virtual health care, we think some key areas of focus should be:

  • Patient-centredness, including codesign with patients, and measuring what matters to patients;
  • Equity, including proactive efforts to ensure affordability, equitable access to technology and digital literacy;
  • Cross-sector leadership and governance, across jurisdictions and the primary and acute care sectors, and in partnership with industry and researchers;
  • Digitally-capable health workforce development, prioritising team-based care and new roles needed to optimise integration of technology into health care;
  • Interoperability, standards and quality assured technology; and
  • Funding for reforms, including better use of data and evaluation.

‘Now—more than ever—as we face the most significant health and economic challenges experienced in a century, we need big-picture thinking and serious policy reform efforts that are agile and innovative.

‘We cannot shy away from disruptive thinking and the need to do business differently in order to achieve better results that take full advantage of the modern technologies available to us. 

‘Equally, we should not sacrifice new thinking in order to maintain current healthcare practices, processes and professional interests.’

The effective and sustainable adoption of virtual health care 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