It’s National Telehealth Awareness Month and each week in October, we are asking an industry leaders about their thoughts on telehealth.
VISIONFLEX: You recently led a project to develop a new international standard for telehealth services. Now that the standard has been published, how has it been received?
Dr Alan Taylor: The new standard, called ISO 13131:2021 Health informatics – Telehealth services – Quality planning guidelines, was supported by more than 20 countries across the world. Brazil and India are now basing development of telehealth services on the standard. Australia will shortly directly adopt it as an Australian standard. So I feel the standard has been a useful contribution in this area, although more work is needed to provide guidance on how to improve the quality of telehealth services across differing healthcare settings.
Telehealth can be used to expand universal access to healthcare. To make this happen, what barriers do we first need to clear, for example policy and funding issues?
We need to put the lived experience of the patient in their community first. Policy and funding issues should not be barriers, but can be facilitators that can help ensure that the health services required meet the needs of each community in terms of quality, affordability and accessibility.
You are an experienced telehealth consultant who has helped many clients refine their telehealth services. For a telehealth service to be successful, what are the most important steps healthcare providers need to take?
Firstly, there is a need to create the idea that separated care where telehealth services are used to support remote care is a legitimate form of interaction with patients, it just uses different processes and practices.
Secondly, try to build confidence in the use of telehealth services by providing training and support to providers and patients.
Thirdly, concentrate on relationship-building throughout your organisation to ensure seamless integrated care for patients.
And lastly, provide the financial and human resources needed for health organisations to adapt the available technology to serve their needs.
And conversely, what are the biggest risk factors that should be avoided when establishing a telehealth service?
Do not expect a technology, supplier, or consultant to solve all your problems! Take control of how technology is designed and put to work in your setting, rather than leaving its implementation to others.
In a post-pandemic world, what do you think Australia’s telehealth landscape will look like?
I cannot predict the future, but I am worried about the knock-on impact on our health system of caring for large numbers of people with serious COVID-19 conditions. I want to see access to care improved for everyone, not restricted or prioritised due to lack of staff or facilities because they are being used to manage COVID! Telehealth services will have an important part to play in provision of universal care to Australians as we recover from the pandemic.