Telehealth is fast sweeping the world in becoming the preferred method of health care. Different countries have different ways of implementing this relatively new business model, with varying degrees of success. Australia, unfortunately, is a bit lacking in that department due to several reasons.
This article aims to discuss the current climate of Australia with regards to telehealth. It also discusses possible future advances that the country can pursue to further implement this model for the benefit of the medical industry as well as patients alike.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth, by its strictest definition, is the use of technology to connect patients with doctors by providing services that automate or save resources. These can come in the form of the following:
- Video conferencing
- Online patient and hospital portals
- Remote monitoring apps and trackers
- Online prescription and ordering of medicines
Telehealth has been proven to save time for processing as well as for travel. It has also been shown to reduce expenses which translate to lower medical costs. Lastly, patients can also be provided with immediate medical assistance that is of high quality, adding value to the cost of health care.
How is Telehealth in Australia?
The definition of telehealth in Australia is somewhat a bit restrictive. According to the Australian Department of Human Health Services, telehealth is currently limited to health services through consultations via videoconferencing. However, this is just another facet of telehealth. While many startup companies are currently in the midst of developing further advances to the present landscape of telehealth in the country, different reasons have been preventing them to take off.
The Australian government also restricts users of telehealth to specific groups, preventing the public from access to these features. According to the DOH, only those who are at least 15 kilometers away from the doctor or specialist is allowed to access videoconferencing features. Furthermore, only select locations are considered to be telehealth eligible, such as those who are outside of major cities in Australia.
Future of Australian Telehealth
While Australia is a bit slow in adapting telehealth in the country, there is a lot of hope in the development of technologies as well as implementation of this model in the coming months and years. This is of particular importance especially during the current COVID 19 outbreak that has forced even those with valid medical conditions from traveling. Further acceptance and improvement in the scope of telehealth can greatly help during this crisis and beyond.
Online Prescriptions and Ordering
This feature is already available in many countries that have already implemented telehealth for a number of years. In many countries, prescriptions sent online are honored by most pharmacies, and orders can be picked up or delivered anywhere from within an hour to a couple of days after orders have been placed. Prescriptions can be sent via email or printed through an online patient portal. This is a great way as, aside from the convenience that it provides for patients who no longer need to go to the hospital or clinic to get a prescription from the doctor, but online prescription can also be stored so that treatment history can easily be retrieved for review and analysis for whatever purpose it may serve.
There are various apps and wearables that are geared towards consumers. These apps and devices are able to track anywhere from number of steps taken, calories burned, number of sleep hours, and even heart rates. What’s missing, though, is its use in the medical field to track a patient’s health history. Likewise, medical trackers such as blood glucose monitors and even blood pressure monitors can provide a ton of information that can be useful for medical practitioners to better monitor their patients’ health.
Store and Forward Scans and Tests
Telehealth provides functionalities which allow for tests to be taken from one place, with the results to be forwarded to a specialist or GP in another. In some cases, tests can also be done in the comfort of one’s home with the use of a high quality camera. Once the test has been completed, these results will automatically be sent to your doctor for review. This provides a lot of convenience, once implemented in Australia, as travel time will be significantly reduced, especially if the clinic and your doctor are located in different areas. Test results may also take a few days to come back, and telehealth provides the benefit of you no longer needing to return to the clinic to get these as the results will be electronically sent to where it needs to be.
Store and forward technology is a concept that will greatly benefit Australians, especially those who are located in faraway locations with limited access to transport and who are far away from health care facilities. Those who have limited mobility can greatly benefit from this as well.
Wider Telehealth Coverage
Perhaps the greatest advantage of telehealth is the fact that it allows for quick and remote interactions between patients and doctors, and all you would need is a computer or mobile device as well as the Internet. With this, even those who are on the farthest reaches of the country can get high quality health care from literally anywhere they want in Australia.
While the target users of telehealth in Australia is somewhat limited, it can be foreseen that rapid acceptance will be made in the very near future, perhaps early this year. Restrictions on who can avail of telehealth will be loosened, and more patients as well as doctors will be able to access this system.
While the adoption of telehealth in Australia has lagged as compared to other countries such as China, Indonesia, and Singapore, we can foresee a rapid acceptance as well as major improvements in this field. We can further expect startups and initiatives to further develop technologies in telehealth to improve coverage of features and functionalities. We can also predict more support from the Australian government to have a solid telehealth structure to benefit citizens who want high quality health care that is efficient, accurate, and accessible for all.