Among the many innovations born from necessity during COVID, telehealth is one of the most successful.
In just two years since March 2020, more than 118 million telehealth consultations were taken up by 18 million Australians under an expansion of the service through the Medicare Benefit Scheme (MBS).
The uptake of phone and video appointments was so successful that telehealth will now be a permanent feature of Australia’s primary care system.
But the success of the initiative also opens the door to a wider range of health, care or wellbeing providers to adopt telehealth in their business models, from insurers and allied health practitioners to community care services or wellness groups.
What does the telehealth model mean for medical care?
In a world where services from banking to travel booking to language lessons have all shifted online, providers of health, care and wellbeing services were often reluctant to make the leap.
Prior to the pandemic, telehealth was a tightly held service offered only for patients in the most remote or unusual circumstances.
Even though Australia had a relatively well-developed system for video and telephone consults, telehealth represented less than one per cent of consultations a year.
The pandemic provided the impetus for rapid change
Now, around 25 per cent of MBS consults are delivered via telehealth — an incredible story of growth and success.
Besides offering safety and convenience for patients wary of heading to a clinic, the approach has also allowed better matching between available doctors and demand.
It has also made large-scale care operations more efficient.
In Victoria, for example, there are plans to double the size of a ‘virtual emergency room’ that has been used by more than 28,000 people in two years, with 71 per cent avoiding a trip to hospital as a result.
Statistics taken from Centre for Online Health at The University of Queensland Australia
Untapped demand reveals opportunity
Despite the strong interest in telehealth from patients and consumers, its implementation remains uneven.
While nearly a third of mental health consultations were delivered via telehealth in the first half of 2022, along with a quarter of GP consultations, just 2 per cent of allied health consultations were delivered the same way.
In other words, the consumer demand and support for telehealth is there, but not all MBS providers have been able to deliver.
There is also a growing number of organisations that deliver services that fall outside the MBS that would benefit from offering consultations online, from nutritionists to counsellors, home nursing providers to elderly social support groups.
For these groups, TSA Group’s Channel Manager Brent Walker says it is important to be strategic about when and how providers use telehealth platforms to enhance the services they already offer.
“The uptake of telehealth has shown that the general public feel increased levels of comfort about managing their health issues over the phone or through a video screen,” Mr Walker says.
“Yet medical and wellness professionals are often dealing with seniors, or patients who might not have particularly strong technological skills, or who could find some platforms to be a barrier.
“For the health, care and wellbeing sector, getting the balance right on how you deliver those services, on what platform, and for what purpose, is the key to success.”
Good care starts with Patient Experience (PX)
Just as consumer-facing businesses have had to lift their game on customer experience (CX), those looking to provide health, care or wellbeing services also need to think about their end-user experience.
Patient experience has become an area of renewed focus as providers endeavour to make the transition from face-to-face to online, or on-phone a better experience.
The quality of that customer experience can be significant in ensuring people are alert to changes in their conditions or are making lifestyle changes that reduce their risk of ill health.
In contrast, there is a risk that poor patient experience could erode the relationship between the provider and the customer or reduce confidence and trust.
“The uptake of technology and new communication channels offer a fantastic opportunity for providers to be able to give targeted advice around wellbeing and health, and to develop their relationship with the patient or customer,” Mr Walker says.
“But it also puts the onus on providers to be able to use those platforms well so that information is conveyed clearly and that the patient experience is positive.”
“The demand for telehealth shows no sign of abating, so for businesses in this space or providers of health, care or wellbeing services, it is time to think about how you design and deliver a better experience.”
TSA are Australia’s market leading specialists in CX Consultancy and Contact Centre Services. We are passionate about revolutionising the way brands connect with Australians. How? By combining our local expertise with the most sophisticated customer experience technology on earth, and delivering with an expert team of customer service consultants who know exactly how to help brands care for their customers.