Telehealth in Australia

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Australians to do more online than ever before. In this article we’ll cover the growing area of telehealth, how Australians are using it to access healthcare.

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What is telehealth?

Broadly speaking, telehealth is the combination of healthcare and technology. This could include digital tools you use to access your healthcare from home, or that your doctor or provider uses. Telehealth technologies are used in nearly every area of healthcare, from prevention and education, to diagnosis and treatment.

The overall objective of telehealth is to make healthcare more accessible and efficient. This could happen many different ways, including:

  • Making healthcare more accessible to people who might have previously had a barrier like time, mobility, or location;
  • Helping people in rural or remote areas access healthcare services through video conferencing and other online resources;
  • Supporting healthcare providers with technology that can drive efficiency;
  • Giving people access to specialists or services that are interstate;
  • Providing online resources for self-managing healthcare.

Can I claim telehealth on my private health insurance?

Telehealth includes a broad range of health services, from virtual appointments to apps that let you book appointments. Whether or not telehealth services are covered will depend on exactly the service, and the details of your health insurance policy.

In some cases, telehealth could fall under your extras cover. Examples of extras cover services that may be able to be accessed via telehealth include:

  • Psychology
  • Physiotherapy
  • Dietetics
  • Speech pathology
  • Occupational therapy
  • Exercise physiology
  • Podiatry

What are some examples of Telehealth in Australia?

Australia is one of the countries leading the world in digital connectivity. My Health Record is a great example of an online patient portal, which falls under the telehealth umbrella. Other examples of telehealth include:

  • Virtual appointments: Thanks to video conferencing technology, you could be able to see your GP without leaving home. These services are typically limited to minor services and may be followed by an in-person appointment.

  • Remote monitoring: If you have an ongoing medical issue, your doctor may be able to monitor you remotely. For example, patients with diabetes may be able to use a device that monitors glucose levels and sends information to their doctor.

  • Communication between doctors: With digital tools, general practitioners can get input from specialists. Your GP might opt to send over your medical info digitally to another doctor, who can decide whether they need to see you face-to-face. This may reduce unnecessary in-person appointments and wait times.

  • Personal health records: Another aspect of My Health Record is that Aussies can access some of their personal health records on time. This could come in handy if you need to remotely access information about your health or past appointments.
    Health apps: There are many health apps to help you take control of an aspect of your health. This could include apps that help you track your step count, or record your own health information.

What’s the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

All telemedicine is telehealth, but not all telehealth is telemedicine. Where telehealth refers broadly to any use of information or communication technologies applied to healthcare, telemedicine is the practice of medicine using technology to provide care at a distance (a physician in one location using telecommunications to give care to a patient).

What are the advantages of telehealth?

Australia’s vast landmass and rugged terrain means for many rural or remote communities, getting centralised health care or specialist treatment can be difficult. Telehealth has paved the way for improved access to healthcare for many Australians. One of the biggest advantages of telehealth is that it gives people access to care they might not normally have.

Telehealth has been crucial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as many Australians have been able to access non-emergency health services without having to leave their homes. The mass adoption of telehealth could have a long-term impact on the way we access healthcare.
Telehealth can also make it easier to access a specialist, speeding up diagnosis and treatment.

Here are just a few ways you might be able to use telehealth for in your everyday life:

  • Meet with your GP to get a prescription via video conference;
  • Access mental health services and meet with a psychologist over the phone or video conference;
  • Order testing supplies or medication for ongoing health issues online;
  • Participate in a virtual physio class

What are the disadvantages?

While telehealth has the potential to make healthcare more efficient and accessible, there are a few drawbacks. For starters, telehealth can often be expensive to set up since it usually includes computers and other technology. For that reason, smaller health care facilities or those with less funding may not be able to fully take advantage of the benefits of telehealth.

Some people also would prefer to see a doctor in-person. And, of course, there are certain types of illnesses and diagnoses that require a face-to-face visit.

What type of health services are available via telehealth?

There are many telehealth services you may be able to take advantage of, ranging from aged care and rehabilitation to mental health services to some aspects of general medicine.

Depending on where in Australia you live and other factors, there are also telehealth services that fall under Medicare.

What should I expect from a telehealth appointment?

A telehealth appointment will feel similar to a normal doctor’s appointment, but will involve speaking to your doctor on a computer screen or over the phone. You might be at home for your appointment, or it could take place at the hospital with a specialist in a different location. Either way, many people say it’s no different from being in the same room!

The length of your appointment will depend on what you need to speak with a specialist about, but telehealth appointments can save travel time for you and your doctor.

How can I prepare for a telehealth appointment?

You may get information specific to your appointment ahead of time, but these general tips may help you get ready for your telehealth appointment and make the most of it:

  • Check if video is available: Before your appointment, it could be useful to know whether you’ll speak with the doctor using video conferencing. If you’re taking the appointment from home, you may also want to make sure your computer or phone is set up correctly.
  • Prepare your questions: Just like you might for an in-person appointment, it could help to come up with a list of questions for your doctor.
  • Prepare your answers: To streamline the appointment, have your details ready as well. One common question that comes up in any appointment is your nearest pharmacy, so it could help to have that on hand.
  • Organise a support person: If you would normally bring someone along to your appointment, consider having someone there for your telehealth one too.
  • Get your tech ready: make sure your phone or computer is charged, and that you are checking email regularly.

Is it the same thing as My Health Record?

The My Health Record is an Australian Government initiative to digitize health records. As of 2018, everyone in Australia has a digital record of their health, except for those who opted out.

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Last updated: 23/06/2021

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