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The rise of direct-to-consumer telemedicine services in Australia: implications for primary care and future research

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Author

Darran Foo, Samantha Spanos, Genevieve Dammery, Louise A Ellis, Simon M Willcock and Jeffrey Braithwaite

Description

The article discusses the growth of the largely unregulated Telehealth market in the primary health care space in Australia. Telehealth is becoming the norm in rural and remote communities due to ongoing problems with rural medical workforce programs in delivering a suitable workforce supply. How Telehealth is delivered, the quality of services, the regulatory framework surrounding Telehealth, when Telehealth is appropriate and when it is not - are all questions that are of critical importance to rural people who are often compelled to use Telehealth due to the lack of alternative on-site care. For example, in the last few years the two major supermarket chains have entered the Telehealth market raising questions about the relationship between health care and their supermarket business. While governments say that the development of Telehealth services is not about replacing local GPs, evidence to the recent NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into rural health suggests that Telehealth is being used as a lower cost service option in rural and remote communities. On the other hand, Telehealth services such as HealthAccess are designed with communities and clinicians to augment, rather than replace, local general practice care and make it more attractive for GPs to work in the bush.

Why is this useful for rural and remote people to read?

Rural and remote communities need to be actively involved in the policy debate about the future design and regulation of Telehealth. Telehealth has been rolled out very effectively in many locations such as the Murrumbidgee where time was taken to work with the local community, clinicians and other stakeholders to build a model that integrated and enhanced care and workforce retention. In other locations, it has been introduced without community consultation to replace GP/VMO roles in rural and remote towns. Telehealth has enormous potential to bridge gaps in access to healthcare in rural and remote towns, or to undermine the sustainability of rural health and hospital services. Rural and remote people need to demand that they are engaged in the co-design of Telehealth services to ensure that the needs of different communities are addressed and that Telehealth is not being used to withdraw services from rural and remote people.

Keywords

RURAL HEALTH SYSTEM REFORM

Suggested Citation (go to Get Document if not provided)

Darran Foo, Samantha Spanos, Genevieve Dammery, Louise A Ellis, Simon M Willcock, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW. The rise of direct-to-consumer telemedicine services in Australia: implications for primary care and future research. MJA 219 (8) ▪ 16 October 2023 https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.52097

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