It’s fair to say that Telehealth has exploded during the COVID pandemic and it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. During the height of the pandemic and recurring lockdowns, people have been encouraged to stay home. As a result, the healthcare industry needed to adjust to a new standard of care. As we saw last year, when the country reopens, many patients have come to not only want but also expect telehealth services from their practitioner, begging the questions: What is the role of telehealth in care delivery after the pandemic? And how do we continue to deliver high-quality patient care in a digital world?
Australia undeniably experienced an explosive upward trend in telehealth adoption over the last 12 months because of the pandemic. The Australian Department of Health reported from 13 March 2020 to 21 April 2021, over 56 million COVID-19 MBS telehealth services have been delivered to 13.6 million patients, with $2.9 billion in Medicare benefits paid. More than 83,540 providers have used telehealth services and these figures do not represent non-MBS services. These numbers will grow as telehealth becomes a more integrated part of the standard care process. For medical and health practitioners to thrive in a COVID and post-COVID world, they need to ensure that hybrid care ― which mixes in-person and virtual care ― is a natural part of their treatment and management process.
One of the most notable impacts of the pandemic has been the speed with which it accelerated telehealth as a mainstream tool for conducting appointments. The surge is most likely a symbol of much bigger things to come. A need for innovation has been established, moving the health industry beyond telehealth to the broader concept of virtual care to evaluate, triage, treat and care for patients.
The post-pandemic future of healthcare will undoubtedly require transformation towards digitally-enabled care delivery, and digital health infrastructure that offers real-time tracking of health outcomes to support the viability of health systems and software well into the future.
Since the pandemic, practitioners and healthcare organisations have had to re-evaluate and redesign their care delivery model to ensure patients truly remain at the heart of healthcare. For practitioners to be successful in the future, there needs to be a shift from provider-centric care that focuses solely on disease management, to an ecosystem approach that proactively identifies risk and enables patients to work with their health practitioner as partners.
With the emergence of new digital health solutions and an increased transition to virtual care, practitioners are now able to deliver quality care, remotely. These solutions provide patients with a seamless technology experience irrespective of the environment. The increased adoption of digital health technologies will empower the practitioner to deliver care that is empathetic at its core resulting in improved clinical decision-making processes and better patient engagement and health outcomes.
Beyond the current crisis, connecting virtual care will be essential for future generations of health practitioners to meet the growing and increasingly complex demands of tomorrow’s healthcare. The reality is, telehealth experienced two breakthroughs during the pandemic: an uptake in adoption and a permanent place in the overall strategy of the healthcare industry. However, the challenge now is not to lose the momentum and progress that has been gained. The current climate provides a real opportunity for companies like HealthBank to further lay foundations and accelerate progress that, not only, addresses current friction but also how preventative healthcare is accessed and provided.
Robbie is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Exercise Scientist and Co-Founder of HealthBank.io. He has worked in private practice and corporate health consulting for over 10 years and is a digital health advocate and educator.