Telehealth or telemedicine has a long history. As far back as 1879 a Lancet article wrote about doctors using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits.
In 1925 a cover of Science and Intervention magazine showed a doctor diagnosing a patient by radio and inside the article envisaged a world where one day a video examination of a patient may be possible.
At the same time, the Royal Flying Doctors Service in Australia was introducing pedal powered radios to connect doctors to the outback.
The mid 1960s then saw telemedicine in its modern form introduced to monitor NASA astronauts and to link US psychiatric institutions with general practitioners.
Fast forward a century and add in the current global pandemic and how far have we really come with telehealth? Are we any further advanced than 1879?
Telehealth and COVID-19
Telehealth today is an open and constantly evolving science incorporating new technologies and responding and adapting to the needs of patients and societies.
Founder of HealthBank telemedicine company Robbie Clark says so far the technology has advanced quicker than people have been willing to adopt it. The current pandemic however has fast-tracked its widespread adoption across the globe.
Robbie Clark presents Telemedicine: The Future of Healthcare – Challenges and Opportunities at the 2020 ACNEM Online Conference.
"COVID-19 has prompted an acceleration in telemedicine's growth and is forcing the entire ecosystem to rethink how healthcare is delivered," Robbie says.
Why the slow uptake?
Cost, liability, security, lack of technology infrastructure and poor computer literacy have all been barriers to adoption of telemedicine but Robbie says Coronavirus has forced both patients and doctors to very quickly get onboard.
"Healthcare models will now be entirely reconceptualised to include telemedicine and I believe COVID-19 has broken the barriers once and for all."
The Australian Government was quick to support the rapid adoption of telemedicine at the outbreak of COVID-19 by announcing a 'whole of population' telehealth service. New Medicare Benefits Schedule item numbers have been introduced and providers do not even need to physically be at their practice to provide the service.
RACGP has also published a wide range of resources and guides to telehealth as well as steps practitioners should take before, during and after a consult.
Robbie says there is obvious demand for remote medical options during Coronavirus but practitioners must consider if telehealth will be economical for their practice in the long term.
"Can you afford to invest the time and financial resources in setting up the services?" he asks.
"Practice management software and third-party telehealth integrations are making it very easy to introduce but it's the processes like security and privacy aspects which are more complex," he says.
E-scripts, pathology and diagnostic testing can also be incorporated into telehealth services, but Robbie says make sure you only transmit information with secure end-to-end encryption.
"There are third-party solutions specialising in secure messaging which I strongly recommend."
Robbie founded HealthBank to revolutionise the way healthcare is delivered and improve availability and accessibility of high-quality healthcare to every person on earth.
"We believe healthcare should be created equal for all, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, location and time availability," he said.
2020 ACNEM Online Conference
James Maskell presents Now is the Time to Adopt Telemedicine at the 2020 ACNEM Online Conference.
Founder of Evolution of Medicine, James has developed a free online guide to help health practitioners pivot to telemedicine.
"Learn what you need to know to transition your practice to a virtual model so you can stop worrying about the future and take action," James says.
Learn more at the 2020 ACNEM Online Conference. View program here.