Navigating the new normal
5 December 2022
Reviewed by Valion Health
Between 13 March 2020 and 30 June 2022, 114.3 million telehealth services were delivered to 17.8 million patients, and 94,679 practitioners have now used telehealth services. (Digitalhealth.gov.au)
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is when you have a consultation with your health professional on the phone (mobile or landline) or through video conferencing (like FaceTime, Zoom or WhatsApp) on a mobile or computer. It allows you to speak to them without being face-to-face. Telehealth services can include diagnosis, treatment, and prevention from a range of health professionals, including:
- specialists and consultants
- allied health providers
- mental health professionals
- nurse practitioners.
Telehealth isn’t suitable for every situation, and it doesn’t replace essential health care visits, but it can be a flexible and convenient option.
Why is telehealth on the rise?
While telehealth isn’t new, there’s been a rapid expansion of services in recent times thanks to several things:
- advances in communication and digital technology
- increased access to smart phones, broadband internet, wireless technology, and shared electronic health records
- (and last but certainly not least!) COVID-19.
In March 2020 telehealth was expanded under Medicare to help keep patients and healthcare providers safe during the pandemic and the social distancing, isolation and quarantine requirements that came with it. These expanded telehealth services became an ongoing part of Medicare from January 2022, with the Australian Government investing $106 million over four years to support permanent telehealth services.
The benefits of telehealth
So what are the benefits of telehealth? While there’ll always be a need for face-to-face appointments with health professionals, telehealth can help you to get access to healthcare where and when you need it, providing continuity of care.
Healthcare in your home
Telehealth can be a convenient option for a range of people, including those who may be house-bound, immunocompromised or unable to travel (such as the elderly or those with physical or mental health challenges). It can help to reduce the spread of illness if you’re unwell or need to self-isolate. Telehealth can also improve access to a wide range of quality healthcare for people living in rural and remote areas (who often need to travel long distances to see their healthcare provider), including access to specialists.
Saving you time and money
While telehealth might not be free, it can cost less than face-to-face appointments. It can also save you money on transport costs, parking fees, and the costs associated with time off work or childcare, travel time or waiting times.
Support for chronic health conditions
Telehealth can be useful for people with chronic health conditions which often require ongoing and complex care. It can provide more options for consultations and follow-ups. Telehealth can also be a more convenient and comfortable way for people undergoing complex treatments to engage with their healthcare team. Similarly, using telehealth for psychology and other mental health treatment can help to reduce stress and anxiety for some people, by providing support from the comfort of home.
While telehealth isn’t right for every situation, it can improve accessibility, affordability, and reduce waiting times which may support more effective diagnosis, referral, and treatment.
Using telehealth services
Not sure how to make the most of telehealth? Access can vary depending on your location, your needs, and your history with your health professional. Here are ten top tips to help get you started.
1. Check if you’re eligible for telehealth
If you’re interested in telehealth, chat to your health professional about it. To be eligible for GP telehealth services, you must’ve seen your GP (or another GP in the same practice) for a face-to-face consultation in the 12 months before the telehealth service. If your doctor or medical centre doesn’t offer telehealth consultations, you can use healthdirect to find a provider. For other telehealth services, chat to your health professional about eligibility.
2. Is it bulk-billed?
Eligible patients can access GPs, specialists, nursing, midwifery, and allied health services via telehealth nationally through Medicare. If you’ve seen your regular doctor or medical centre in the last 12 months, they might be able to bulk-bill your telehealth consultation. Check with your health professional when you make your appointment.
3. Private health insurance?
Does your private health insurance cover you for any telehealth services? Are there any requirements or restrictions? Teachers Health expanded our telehealth offering to include a wider range of services during COVID-19. Speech therapists, dietitians, lactation consultants and Accredited Mental Health Social Workers are now permanently available via telehealth. Benefits depend on your level of Extras cover and remaining limits – check them on the Teachers Health app or Online Member Services.
If you have a hospital policy with Teachers Health, you may also be eligible to access a range of support services linked to hospital treatment, having a baby, or managing your physical and/or mental health. These services and programs are brought to members through Teachers Healthcare Services, an initiative of Teachers Health, to support members’ health and wellbeing through quality, evidence-based health management. Services are provided over the phone and eligible members are connected with a dedicated care coordinator to support them along the way. Find out more about the support services available.
4. Check your tech
Many telehealth appointments can be done with just a phone call, but if you’re using video, you’ll need a smartphone, tablet or PC (with a camera, microphone, and speakers), and a reliable internet connection.
5. Make your appointment
Call your health professional’s office or make an appointment online. They often then send you an online link that you click on at the time of your appointment. You might need to download a specific app or software to support your telehealth consultation.
6. Provide the necessary information
To make the most of the time you have, it’s a good idea to think ahead and send your health professional any relevant info like recent blood tests, scans, current medications or other records. They might ask for some photos or other information about your symptoms or condition before or during the appointment. You may also want to have your Medicare and private health insurance info close to hand. Don’t forget to make a list of any questions you might have too, so you don’t forget.
7. Your appointment
You might be placed in an online (or on-phone!) “waiting room” before the appointment starts and when your health professional is ready, you’ll hear them on the call or see them on the screen. They’ll then greet you and ask you questions, just like in a normal face-to-face appointment. Have a pen and paper ready so you can write down any information that you might need later.
If your health professional needs more info, like a blood test or X-ray, they might ask you to do those before a follow-up appointment. And you might need to collect any medications your doctor prescribes from your pharmacy.
9. Review your appointment
Go over your notes from the appointment and schedule any tests your health professional has requested. If you’ve opted into My Health Record, you can view your health information online.
10. Safeguard your privacy!
Telehealth | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care
Telehealth | Australian Digital Health Agency
Virtual care (nsw.gov.au)
The Rise and Rise of Telehealth (valionhealth.com.au)
Remote Service Provision - The Past, Present And Future Of Telehealth - Valion Health