Over the past 12 months the need for physical distancing to minimise the risk for COVID19 spread, travel restrictions and lockdowns have changed the way that patients interact with the healthcare system.
The introduction of telehealth has been widely accepted by doctors and patients and backed by the federal government with the inclusion of telehealth appointments in the Medicare Benefits Schedule since March 2020.
In particular, access to telehealth has proven beneficial to cancer patients.
A new paper by a group of oncology experts, including Australian National University (ANU) Medical School’s Professor Desmond Yip, outlines the benefits that telehealth can bring to vulnerable groups, including rural and regional patients, beyond the pandemic.
“What we’ve seen is that telehealth not only allows greater access for vulnerable patients but promotes integrated care between specialists in urban areas and the local health care team,” explains Professor Yip.
“It allows for a wider range of specialists, such as interpreters, from different locations to be involved in the patient’s care, and it reduces financial and social burdens such as travel.”
“It also opens the door for patients in regional and rural areas to participate in clinical trials – an option previously unavailable to many. Since the shift to telehealth the uptake of regional patients into clinical trials has increased significantly. In turn this will have positive outcomes for the advancement of healthcare delivery.”
Telehealth is not without its issues with the paper pointing to its inappropriatness for some groups, the issues of IT infrastructure and patient literacy, and the need to view telehealth as a complement to face-to-face care not as a replacement.