Telehealth becoming a mainstream GP service

Few GPs had used telehealth before COVID hit. The NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability estimates that <1% of GP consultations were performed through telehealth prior to March 2020.

Then the world changed. And the funding changed too.

Widespread MBS benefits coupled with a desire to minimise COVID transmission by avoiding face-to-face consultations led to the rapid adoption of telehealth among GPs. Between March and June 2020, telehealth accounted for ~28% of all GP consultations (representing nearly 13 million appointments in total).

The University of Queensland reports that, in the 2nd quarter of 2021, there were 9.3 million telehealth consultations, representing 18% of all MBS services. Australian GPs performed 20% of their consultations through telehealth during this reporting period (specialists lag behind GPs with only 12% of consultations provided using telehealth).

Is telehealth use increasing among GPs?

At first glance, it would seem that telehealth uptake was a little higher in March-June 2020 than in April-June 2021. It’s important to remember the broader context though because that paints a rather different picture.

The whole country was in lockdown from late-March to June 2020. Though people were permitted to leave home to access medical care, most doctors screened patients by phone first and provided care by telehealth wherever possible to reduce the risk of transmission.

For most of the 2nd quarter of 2021 (April-June), Australians were moving about freely. Apart from a brief 3-day lockdown in Perth from 23-26 April, there was widespread freedom until 27 May when Melbourne entered its 4th lockdown, which lasted until 10 June. Things went back to normal again until 26 June when Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong locked down, followed by snap lockdowns in Perth, Darwin and Brisbane as the quarter drew to a close.

For most of the reporting period, most of the country was living life mostly as normal. And yet telehealth still represented 20% of all GP consultations.

That shows telehealth becoming mainstream – not a service that’s only used when there’s no face-to-face option, but a service that’s preferred even when other choices are available.

Patients certainly rate telehealth highly. They love its convenience but they also report high levels of satisfaction with the care they receive.

According to the ABS, of those who have had a telehealth consultation:

  • 84.4% reported that telehealth practitioners always listened carefully
  • 86.7% reported that telehealth practitioners always showed respect
  • 83.4% reported that telehealth practitioners always spent enough time with them.

Interestingly, older patients are happier with telehealth than younger ones. Patients aged 75-84 are more like to report that their telehealth practitioner:

  • always listened to carefully (91.5% compared to 80.5% among 25-34 year olds)
  • always shown respect (92.6% compared to 83.6%)
  • always had enough time spent with them (90.6% compared to 78.1%).

Telehealth finally becomes permanent

The government recently announced that telehealth will now be a permanent part of Medicare. Over the last 18 months, it has proven itself to be such a valuable model of care that we will never go back to a health system that relies solely on in-person appointments.

That means it’s essential that you, as a GP, know how to run an effective telehealth service. The actual telehealth consult is the smallest part of a bigger process that ensures your telehealth service runs smoothly and safely.

The good news is that creating a strong telehealth service can:

  • Open a fresh revenue stream for your practice
  • Help you attract new patients
  • Give you more flexible working patterns
  • Increase patient satisfaction.

It’s time to put the horse before the cart once more

Usually, you introduce a new service carefully and methodically, considering the various aspects and planning ways to reduce risk and ensure quality.

That didn’t happen with telehealth in most Australian general practices. We were in the midst of a medical emergency and so your practice probably had to pivot telehealth almost overnight with no time for proper planning. The cart well and truly went before the horse. There was no other option.

It’s time to do things properly now. The easiest way to do that is to enrol in Telehealth Mastery, learn how to create a robust, fully integrated telehealth service and earn yourself 40 CPD points from the RACGP in the process.

About Telehealth Mastery

Telehealth Mastery is the most sophisticated telehealth course on the market, teaching you everything you need to know to implement telehealth into your practice. We cover:

  • Workflows
  • Legal aspects and risk mitigation strategies
  • Insurance
  • Billing
  • Technology
  • Marketing
  • Business strategies.

Telehealth Mastery is a self-paced, online course that takes about 7 hours to complete. By the end of it, you’ll have the knowledge, skills and confidence to take your telehealth service to the next level. Instructors include:

  • Dr Gillian Alexis, Phenix Health
  • Ellie Bakker, Splice Marketing
  • Jeanette Jifkins, Onyx Law
  • Dr Andrew Baird, Ellwood Family Clinic
  • Margaret Faux, Synapse Medical Billing.

We’re well and truly into a new healthcare paradigm now where telehealth will be seen as an essential, mainstream service rather than an optional add-on. Your general practice needs to establish a robust telehealth service with strong foundations to enable you to unlock new revenue, attract and retain patients, and increase workplace flexibility.

Enrol in Telehealth Mastery today.