Telehealth: The New Wave of Modern Medicine

Telehealth: The New Wave of Modern Medicine

Telehealth is a ‘fundamental building block of primary healthcare reform’.

‘We have skipped a decade and jumped from 2030 to 2020 for the delivery of telehealth for all Australians,’ said Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on 27 November when he announced that ‘universal, whole-of-population telehealth…will now be permanent.’

Welcoming the news, RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda described telehealth as a ‘fundamental building block of primary healthcare reform’.

Telehealth: the future of medicine

Telehealth is indeed the new wave of modern medicine. It allows us to reimagine healthcare provision and create new models of care designed for remote rather than physical access. 

A recent Modern Healthcare article envisions specialty centres where doctors and hospitals can connect with specialists 24/7. Instead of sending the patient away with a referral letter and the specialist’s phone number to make an appointment for next month, the doctor could simply say, ‘You need to see a neurologist, let’s connect with one now.’

As well as enabling faster access to specialists, telehealth’s benefits include improving patient choice, driving business and revenue growth for early adopters and improving preventive care. 

It’s a new and exciting world, one of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Better access to care saves lives, after all. But there’s a great deal more to ensuring successful, ongoing provision of telehealth for all Australians than simply announcing it. As Queensland researchers noted back in 2016, 

For telehealth to reach its full potential, it is important to not only understand the barriers and challenges, but also to identify the factors associated with successful services. Success of a service may be defined as the sustained integration of telehealth into routine clinical practice, which is unlikely to occur by good chance. 

History bears that out. 

Sustaining telehealth in Australia

After an intriguing initial case in 1874 that used the recently completed Overland Telegraph to provide remote medical care, it took until 2011 for telehealth to be incentivised through Medicare. Even then, access was restricted and primarily addressed the needs of rural patients consulting with specialists in major cities. 

Many telehealth pilot programs sprang up as advances in communication technologies and remote monitoring devices opened up a world of new possibilities for care despite distance. But there were obvious barriers too, such as lack of training, resistance to change, ethico-legal concerns, and telehealth billing arrangements. That meant that few of the many pilot programs ever became sustained services. 

That is our challenge now. Taking hastily introduced, bolted-on telehealth services and turning them into mainstream services that meet patients’ expectations, improve workplace flexibility for GPs and help sustain general practice.  

Patients see this need too. Most have now made a telehealth booking and experienced a telehealth appointment. Overall, they’ve had a positive experience of telehealth that left them eager to embrace it as part of routine healthcare. But, as the Consumers’ Health Forum (CHF) reports, patients do have concerns about whether ‘there are appropriate technological infrastructure and healthcare professional skills to ensure that telehealth services are able to be delivered appropriately and effectively’.

Telehealth training for GPs

Doctors need the right training and practical support to run a worthy telehealth service that delivers high-quality care and generates revenue. 

The RACGP has said that GPs offering telehealth need ‘the infrastructure and training…to do so successfully’. That’s echoed by the CHF, which argues that training is needed ‘to ensure [telehealth] is an effective part of a 21st century healthcare system’.

That’s why Phenix Health, accredited educator and Splice Marketing, health marketing agency, partnered to create Telehealth Mastery.

Telehealth Mastery

Telehealth Mastery is accredited by the RACGP for 40 CPD points and with ACRRM for 6 PDPs.

It has been carefully designed to teach GPs how to run an effective, integrated telehealth service that improves patient access and boosts practice sustainability.

The Telehealth Mastery Foundational Course will teach GPs how to:

  • Use telehealth technology to provide more efficient access and appropriate systems for patients when referring to specialists and allied health professionals.
  • Implement an efficient and cost-effective telehealth service within practice workflow.
  • Identify the different financial billing models for telehealth (Medicare and private).
  • Engage the clinic team.
  • Identify and manage potential risks relating to telehealth.

Registrations are now open for Cohort 1 and can be accessed here until 3 Jan 2021

Patients are growing accustomed to the convenience of virtual care. As Modern Healthcare warns, health systems that lack telemedicine access are about to start seeing decreased patient volumes as people vote with their smartphone and choose providers that do offer telehealth. 

No practice can now afford not to have a smooth-running, well-integrated, revenue-generating telehealth service. Those days are gone.

It’s time to learn how to make telehealth work for you.


Ellie Bakker
Director Telehealth Mastery and Splice Marketing

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