Visiting your doctor (or other health professional) can be very time consuming, sometimes painfully so. First, you have to get there. You might be lucky and have your doctors just down the road; however, for most of us, we need to allow for a good chunk of the morning or afternoon (or even more for those out in the country) just to get to and from the doctors. Second, there’s the waiting time. This obviously varies by health clinic, but I think most of us have experienced a frustratingly lengthy, doctor-is-running-well-behind style wait. Now here’s the good news. With online healthcare (aka telehealth), these time consuming health visits can be a thing of the past.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth, often referred to as online healthcare, is the means by which people can access health and well-being services irrespective of their location and physical distance from healthcare practitioners and infrastructure. The central feature of telehealth is that the person accessing the health and well-being service – i.e. the patient – is not physically in the same location as the professional providing the service – i.e. the health or social care practitioner. [1],[2]

Telehealth and online healthcare services rely on a range of information and communications technologies to deliver health services and education. One of the main ways in which online healthcare services are provided is through video-conferencing. Telehealth via video consultations can improve access to healthcare for patients who live in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia, as they no longer need to travel vast distances to their nearest major city in order to see a specialist. [2]

Click here to read a real-life example about how telehealth is helping patients living in rural Queensland

What are the benefits of telehealth?

One of the best things about online healthcare is that your consultation can be done in the comfort of your own home! There are a number of key benefits of telehealth worth mentioning, including:

  • Telehealth is convenient and reduces waiting times [9]  
  • Telehealth can improve access for Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas, helping to decrease the urban-rural health disparities that exist [7]
  • Telehealth reduces the amount of travel for regional, rural and remote patients [8]
  • Telehealth provides health professionals and students with access to peer support, guidance and education [9]. This may contribute to the recruitment and retention of medical staff in rural areas [7]
  • Telehealth is environment-friendly as it promotes the reduction of fuel use and carbon emissions [8]

What can you use telehealth for?

Telehealth generally encompasses diagnosis, treatment, preventive, educational and curative aspects of health and well-being services. [2] Broadly speaking, these are: [3],[4],[5],[6]   

  • Non-emergency medical appointments with a GP, medical specialist, nurse practitioner, midwife or Aboriginal health worker
  • Medical advice and education
  • Obtaining a prescription, medical certificate or health-related referral
  • Monitoring of uncomplicated signs and symptoms such as blood pressure, blood glucose, uncomplicated heart rhythm issues, and asthma-related issues

Telehealth has also made it easier for health care workers in regional, rural and remote areas to receive guidance and support from professionals in other locations, regarding the diagnosis, care and referral of patients. [5]

What is telehealth known as on HealthEngine?

You can find telehealth appointments in our “Online Healthcare” Find and Book category on the HealthEngine app.

Book your Telehealth appointments online

Find and instantly book your next health appointment with HealthEngine

Find Telehealth Online

Is Telehealth covered by Medicare?

For residents living in metropolitan Australia, telehealth video consultations with healthcare practitioners are not covered by Medicare. [8]

Medicare rebates are available for telehealth video consultations between specialists and patients in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia (as long as they are located more than 15 km apart). On the map below, these are all areas except for the major cities of Australia. Medicare rebates are also available for patients in eligible aged care facilities and Aboriginal Medical Services. [8]

Image. Map of Australia’s remoteness areas (ASGS)10

As of 1 November 2019, Medicare rebates are available for video consultations between GPs or non-specialist medical practitioners and patients living in remote and very remote Australia (see map above). To be eligible, patients must have attended three face-to-face professional consultations in the previous 12 months from the practitioner who will provide the telehealth services, as well as live at least 15km by road from the practitioner. [11]

How do specialist video consultations currently work in Australia?

A patient in an eligible area can be referred by their GP to consult a specialist via telehealth.  During the video consultation, the patient and specialist are able to hear and see each other through the use of video conferencing technology. The GP or non-specialist health professional may also be present with the patient at the time of the video consultation, assisting and arranging follow up and further management as necessary. [6]

 

References

  1. Telehealth Quality Group (online). International Code of Practice for Telehealth Services 2017 [accessed 2 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  2. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Digital health: Telehealth [accessed 2 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  3. Mayo Clinic (online). Telehealth: Technology meets health care [accessed 6 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  4.  Telecare Aware (online). What is Telecare? [accessed 2 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  5.  World Health Organization (online). Health and sustainable development: Telehealth [accessed 2 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  6.  Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Online. Program Overview: Medicare rebates for Specialist Video Consultations [accessed 4 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  7. Morfatt JJ, Eley, DS. 2010. The reported benefits of telehealth for rural Australians. Aust Health Rev; 34(3):276-81. Abstract available from: URL link
  8. Healthy WA (online). Telehealth [accessed 4 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  9. Queensland Health (online).  Telehealth [accessed 4 November 2019]. Available from: URL link
  10. Australian Bureau of Statistics (online). Remoteness Structure [accessed 4 Nov 2019]. Available from: URL link
  11. Australian Government Department of Health (online). FAQs: Telehealth services provided by GPs and Non-Specialist Medical Practitioners to Patients in Rural and Remote Areas [accessed 4 November 2019]. Available from: URL link