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Telehealth a step forward but still faces barriers

Photo: Telehealth a step forward but still faces barriers
As Australia’s population ages, the demand on the country’s healthcare industry is increasing, adding pressure to the system.

As technology improves, telehealth is emerging as the primary solution to this growing problem, but it too comes with its own set of challenges.

“At Philips we see telehealth as a possible solution to this challenge, but it’s not as simple as just rolling out this technology,” says Matt Moran, Managing Director Australia and New Zealand, Philips. 

“The 2018 Future Health Index report, commissioned by Philips, focused on delivering value in telehealth across institutional and geographical borders and highlighted a number of key factors that are potential, though not insurmountable, barriers to widespread telehealth adoption.”

“In particular, the report highlighted perceived barriers around patient perspectives, healthcare professionals’ perspectives and healthcare policy that need particular consideration in order to make meaningful progress in this area.”
But these barriers are worth facing, in order to reap the benefits that telehealth can bring to the Australian healthcare system.

“The advancement of telehealth is particularly exciting because it has the potential to improve patient and healthcare professional outcomes, and address some of the biggest challenges facing international healthcare systems. It will address some Australian specific challenges, such as geography.”

Accessibility to healthcare

While Australia is among the leaders in skilled healthcare professional density, the nation’s physical size presents additional challenges when it comes to access to healthcare outside of cities and regional centres, particularly for specialist services.

“We know from our experience working with regional hospitals, for a lot of patients attending an appointment, it’s not as simple. It can involve a lengthy drive and can mean you’ll be disconnected from your support network while you’re in ill health.”

“It’s an ongoing challenge and one that can be addressed, in part, by telehealth solutions.”

“Through technology, we can break down barriers in the delivery of care.”

“Telemedicine can allow us to consult and monitor remotely, reducing the burden on healthcare professionals as well as on patients. It can also provide additional access, so that care is delivered at the right time in the right place, irrespective of physical location.”

The Future Health Index (FHI) 2018 report showed both the surveyed general population and healthcare professionals in Australia support the use of telehealth, but there is a lack of understanding about its benefits within both groups.

While most people reported having shared data/information from connected care technology with healthcare professionals, only about a third knew when they should share the data with their healthcare professional or what the easiest way is to do so.

According to the Future Health Index 2018 report, Australians would be more likely to use connected care technology if their healthcare professional recommended they use it, or if the government subsidised or paid for the technology.

Healthcare professionals agree that accessible, secure information sharing platforms between themselves would have the most positive impact on citizens taking care of their health, followed by greater access to doctors remotely.

“Data plays a critical role in modern healthcare systems,” Moran continued.

“The collection, sharing and use of data can help widen care access, increase trust and satisfaction in healthcare professionals, and boost efficiency by helping diagnose and treat conditions earlier and with greater accuracy.”

“Effective health system integration of high-quality data is key to producing meaningful, actionable insights for healthcare professionals.”

“However, as connected devices, electronic medical records and data-driven innovations increase at a rapid rate, we often see health systems and healthcare professionals struggling to leverage data and analytics in the most productive way.”

“In order to access meaningful data and insights, solutions must be tailored to the unique needs of the healthcare organisation.”

Maintaining the ‘human’ elements

Though telehealth services are seen as convenient among the general population, many still value the human interaction.

“The Future Health Index 2018 report highlighted that Australians favour the ‘human’ element of healthcare, and there is some resistance to technology when it is perceived that it will replace a doctor or healthcare professional.”

“When we talk about telehealth though, its real value is in increasing access to healthcare professionals, not replacing them.”

“We’ve been working with West Moreton Health in Queensland to implement a successful telehealth program that’s focused on improving outcomes for the chronically ill and reducing the pressure on the hospital services.”

“The MeCare program allows patients and their healthcare professionals to connect outside of the traditional hospital setting, providing care when and where it is needed.”

“For the patients in the program, we’ve seen a 53 percent decrease in hospital emergency department visits, which has a ‘wide reaching’ impact for the entire community that the hospital serves.”

“Importantly though, the feedback from participating patients has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve seen patients report increased quality of life, including improved confidence and mental health.”

Equipping healthcare professionals

Despite its goal of reducing the demand on the healthcare industry, the 2016 Future Health Index report also found despite the benefits of technology, more than a third of Australian healthcare professionals felt the rise of healthcare technology would require them to be available 24/7 to their patients.

“This perspective has the potential to impact the uptake of telehealth solutions, however, we do know that nearly three-quarters of Australian healthcare professionals think IT-based cloud solutions around communication, record management and reporting will have a positive impact on primary care, hospital or healthcare staff overall.”

“If we can find efficiencies with these types of solutions, we start to solve the challenge of time and 24/7 demand. It’s really about using our healthcare resources in a smarter, more efficient manner.”

Another key barrier that needs to be considered is how policy may impact the roll out and uptake of new technologies.

“In Australia, Medicare is used for the majority of healthcare services, so in order for new technologies to be appropriately used by patients, Medicare scheduling will need to allow for these new innovations, particularly if we want to leverage them to ensure our medical resources go further in the face of an ageing population.”

With healthcare systems around the world under increasing strain from ageing populations, rising rates of chronic disease and widespread skills shortages, telehealth is promising to help precious medical resources go further. From patients to doctors, the benefits of telehealth are far-reaching and only increasing in potential.

To download the full ‘Future Health Index: delivering value across institutional and geographical borders’ report, please visit this webpage. For additional Future Health Index related content, please visit https://www.futurehealthindex.com/

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.