As telehealth becomes a mainstream part of health care delivery in Australia, consumers are starting to become more discerning in their choice of providers.
The rapid commercialisation of Telehealth has led to a proliferation of services that have sometimes been imposed on communities without consultation, or which feel more like prescription factories than health services.
"As time goes by, I think people are starting to look for good quality Telehealth care service that respond to their needs" said Mark Burdack, CEO of the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia.
"We know from research that continuity of care is central to achieving good health outcomes for patients.
"Yet, too many of the new style Telehealth are fragmentating care.
"Patients can now go to X Telehealth service for an STI test, Y Telehealth service for a PREP prescription, Z Telehealth Service for mental health counselling, B Telehealth Service for dieting advice and so on and so forth. This runs the risk of increasing medical and prescription errors because the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
"There has been an explosion in the number of startup Telehealth services that have been built around particular product lines.
"The success of general practice is that patients have a long-term relationship with a regular GP who knows them, and who the patients trusts to coordinate their care through referral to specialists, pathology, allied health and so forth.
"Too often Telehealth is driven by what the technology can do, or the financial benefits it offers, rather than what is good for the patient.
"One of the constant complaints of patients about Telehealth is the need for the patient to repeat their medical history to every Telehealth doctor they see, because the Telehealth doctor simply doesn't have time to deliver quality health care which includes reviewing a patient's medical record before the consultation if it exists" said Mr Burdack.
According to the Foundation, too many Telehealth services have been built around a hospital or emergency model of care where each instance of care is treated as a standalone episode, the service only treats the disease or injury for which the patient has presented, and the assignment of doctors is based on 'whoever is available' rather than aligning medical care to the needs of the individual.
In some cases, doctors on these service are not resident in Australia or have little understanding of where the patient lives.
HealthAccess was co-designed by the Foundation, clinicians and communities to augment proven models of primary health care.
"As a charity, our goal with Telehealth is not to sell a product, but to help patients to manage and improve their health over their life course.
"Telehealth is in many cases a good care option for patients because it can save a farmer driving 400km to get a repeat script, or can deliver more regular access to a GP for people unable to attend a physical location such as residents of aged care facilities.
"But in our view the design of Telehealth services must always be around the needs of the specific patient cohorts. Too often Telehealth services are being designed to sell something, programs designed for one group are being imposed on a group with completely different needs, or they are just seen as a way to save money by replacing local access to quality primary health care.
"HealthAccess has taken a different approach including engaging patients and clinicians in the co-design of services; working with universities and clinicians to evaluate health outcomes and improvements; and, building solutions that maintain or improve continuity of care.
"Telehealth can in many cases be a better model of care for many people providing greater access, more convenience and improved health outcomes.
"HealthAccess regularly achieves satisfaction rates of 90% and above among clinicians and patients, and recently won a health industry award for innovation in patient care.
"Deloitte Social Impact recently found that HealthAccess was saving one hospital system an average of $303 per patient presentation, proving that you can deliver better access to quality care at a more efficient cost, without patients feeling as though their health needs are not being addressed or they are just widgets on a production line.
"I think consumers are starting to understand the difference offered by Telehealth services designed to improve health outcomes for individuals and communities" said Mr Burdack.
For more information about HealthAccess click here.