Effectiveness of telehealth during Covid-19

A new study by researchers at Flinders University, published in BMC Family Practice reveals that the expansion of telehealth-supported access to healthcare during Covid-19 was largely embraced by general practice patients.

As part of the study 30 patients from nine general practices in metropolitan Adelaide, who had been identified by their regular doctors as being at high risk of poor health outcomes as part of a larger study of general practice services, were interviewed between May and June 2020.

The study reveals that 25 out of the 30 patients utilised telehealth consultations (by telephone rather than videoconferencing) at least once, and telehealth consultations were viewed as a very important factor for patients being able to access general practice care.

“We found telehealth facilitated the continuity of care and healthcare management by timely access to their GPs during the pandemic,” says researcher Dr Sara Javanparast from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“Overall, we found high levels of satisfaction with telehealth general practice consultations, particularly for issues that didn’t need a physical examination.

“Patients liked that it saved travel time and its convenience.”

Keys to telehealth

Participants in the study identified that having a prior good relationship with your regular healthcare professional is key to the effectiveness of telehealth consultations.

They also identified that having flexibility in how they access healthcare as something of value with the participants reporting value in having a combination of telehealth and face-to-face consultations with their GPs.

While there are positives identified with telehealth, one of the key drawbacks or challenges in using telehealth services was the difficulty some patients reported in being able to express themselves and in accessing physical exams.

“The expansion of telehealth supported access to general practice during the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Dr Javanparast.

“In the future, telehealth in Australia is likely to have a stronger place in primary healthcare policy and practice and an increased acceptance among patients.”

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