The use of telehealth has boomed during the pandemic and so too have the misconceptions about this incredibly useful method of delivering healthcare!
With more than 30 years of telehealth experience between them, two of Australia’s top telehealth experts take on the role of myth buster: From The University of Queensland’s Centre for Online Health (COH), COH Director, Professor Anthony Smith; and COH Director of Telehealth Technology, Associate Professor, Liam Caffery.
Myth #5 – Telehealth is inferior to in-person consultations.
There is a large body of evidence that says telehealth consultations are equivalent to in-person consultations, and in some cases, they are actually better than in-person consultations. This might be because of earlier intervention, more regular observation, or more targeted services that address the clinical problem.
A statement such as this usually prompts people to ask the ‘old chestnut’, ‘how can telehealth not be inferior when I can’t examine the patient in person’? We go back to Myth #1: not every situation is amenable to telehealth; so, when used appropriately outcomes from telehealth are not inferior.
Case in point though – how many patients go to visit their GP or specialist, and actually end up needing a physical examination? How many consultations involved only a conversation? The use of videoconferencing can lend itself very well to a case discussion, and also provide the opportunity to determine if an in-person consultation is actually needed.
Myth #6 – Existing administrative processes used for in-person consultations can be used for telehealth.
Clinical providers do not tend to have the digital eco system required for telehealth. This means substantial changes to practice administration processes are required.
Think about how you currently operate your surgery: Your patient attends your clinic. Perhaps you provide them with a medical certificate, patient information forms, pharmacy scripts, or worker’s compensation forms. At the end of the consultation, you swipe their Medicare card and provide them with a receipt.
So, if you are connecting with your patients via telehealth, how are you going to do this remotely?
Substantial changes to a practice’s admin processes are required so that you can engage electronically with your patients. These systems need to be in place if telehealth is to become a routine part of a practice.
Myth #7 – Once telehealth processes are established, there is no further need to evaluate.
Monitoring and reviewing the performance of a telehealth service should be a routine part of healthcare. Practitioners need to be mindful of a range of things – such as: what is the patient experience? Is my telehealth system effective? Is it cost effective? What are the patient outcomes? What are the best possible processes?
Another factor to consider with telehealth is the ever-evolving change in technology. The way telehealth was done 30 years ago is very different to the way telehealth can be done today. New systems are emerging all the time and we need to assess the benefits of these systems and ongoing opportunities to improve care.
Evaluation can be used to improve service delivery, the patient experience and clinical care. Evaluation is routinely done by many health services and practices. Telehealth should be evaluated as part of this ongoing service-improvement cycle.
Myth #8 – Older people will not access telehealth due to low technology literacy.
Statistics show that in just about every age group, around 90 percent of people will have access to digital technology. Once you get to the mid-50s age group, there is a slight decrease, and in the above-65 age group, only about 35 percent of people have access to digital technology.
So, in this older age group, it’s not a question of whether they have the ability to use technology – because we know that those people who have the technology tend to use it very, very well. The question is, how many people have no access to a digital device or the internet?
If someone doesn’t own a computer, or a web camera, or a smart phone, are they missing out on telehealth video consultations? What if they share a smart phone in the family? What about homeless people – can they access public facilities for telehealth?
This is part of what we call the ‘digital divide’.
The discussion that we really need to have is, how do we manage our health system, so people are not missing out on important healthcare because of the digital divide and a lack of access to technology?
For more than 20 years, the Centre for Online Health (COH) has explored how telehealth can address challenges in the healthcare industry.
The COH team develops, implements, and evaluates new telehealth-supported models of care, and gathers evidence to help better understand how to integrate telehealth into clinical practice and policy.
The COH research areas include COVID-19 and telehealth, telehealth service evaluation, tele-dermatology, tele-palliative care, rural and remote health, mobile health, Indigenous health, and mental health.
In Queensland, the COH also supports the Metro South Health telehealth service, based at the Princess Alexandra Hospital – one of largest providers of public health services in Brisbane.
Additionally, the COH provides consultancy, education, and training services for the Australian Government and the telehealth industry.