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Is telehealth the way of the future?

Throughout COVID-19, telehealth services have helped to stop the spread of the virus, protecting both patients and frontline health professionals – and saving lives in the process.

For those who aren’t familiar, “telehealth” is the provision of health services remotely with the use of technology. There are many types of technology that can help, including phone calls, teleconference calls, video chats and the sharing of images and videos via email, apps and websites. 

Telehealth certainly isn’t a new thing, but the arrival of COVID-19 has seen its use skyrocket in Australia, particularly among older Australians who are at a higher risk of experiencing life-threatening complications should they become infected. 

Lyn Davies, managing director at Tunstall Healthcare, a leading provider of Connected Care and Connected Health solutions, says the health landscape for seniors has changed dramatically due to COVID-19, and telehealth has played an important role in ensuring they stay connected.

“COVID-19 has made it increasingly more difficult for seniors to access healthcare safely and in a timely manner due to the risks associated with coming into contact with the virus,” Ms Davies says.

“Telehealth has been around for a few years; however, we have seen an increase in demand for Connected Care and Health options as right now many Australians have no other choice.

“Technology has been able to connect ageing citizens to support networks during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure their health and safety are maintained.

“For example, Tunstall’s Connected Health apps such as myMobile, myKiosk and COVID Screening tool supported by Tunstall’s Integrated Care Platform (ICP) connects patients to a clinician who can monitor vital signs and provide the correct advice and support remotely.”

And it’s not just physical ailments that need to be monitored at a time like this. The pandemic has seen a sharp increase in mental health issues as much of the population battles with the negative effects of isolation.

“We have seen an increase in the number of our clients calling through for a chat because they are alone and afraid, without connection to their friends and family,” Ms Davies says.

“Loneliness can take a large toll on anyone’s health, but with the added fear of being in the high-risk category, many seniors can also be subject to anxiety around their health and the disconnect from support if they need it.”

Another often overlooked group who have found themselves at greater risk during the pandemic are those ageing Australians who live in rural and regional communities.

In general, people in regional and remote (including very remote) communities tend to have poorer health outcomes.

“Many regional and remote communities have limited to no access to retirement, aged care and healthcare facilities without a long commute from their home,” Ms Davies says.

“Being disconnected from health services can be detrimental for older Australians when involved in an accident as simple as a fall or ongoing health concerns.

“Telehealth such as Tunstall’s ICP allows ageing Australians to check in with a healthcare professional from afar to avoid long and risky trips to the GP or specialists. These virtual meetings can be everything from a COVID-19 screening test to a consult for an ongoing illness or ailment.”

Healthcare management can often, with good reason, be resistant to change, which is why telehealth has fallen by the wayside in favour of the more traditional face-to-face appointments.

However, the dramatically shifting world situation in recent months has seen telehealth services embraced by health insurers, which is a key factor in seeing its use grow going forward.

“Telehealth will not only stay long-term but will be the future of health for all Australians,” Ms Davies says.

“We expect to see huge advancements off the back of the pandemic, which has demonstrated accessibility and ease of use.”