Home | Opinion | Care in the nursing home: making telehealth the norm in Australia’s aged care sector

Care in the nursing home: making telehealth the norm in Australia’s aged care sector

What a difference a few months can make. Experts here in Australia and around the world have been putting up a convincing use case for telehealth for close on three decades now. They know it can improve access to healthcare services for individuals living in rural and remote locations, facilitate better outcomes for patients who don’t have to travel to receive treatment and save serious money for the healthcare system.

Recent years have seen the cost of the technology needed to deliver and access telehealth services plummet too. What, back in the 1990s, called for extremely expensive, fixed video conferencing equipment and costly connectivity can today be achieved with everyday internet access and economical and reliable mobile devices – Apple’s iPad being, for our money, far and away the best in breed.

Despite these factors, it’s taken a global health crisis to push this alternative mode of healthcare delivery into the Australian mainstream. On 30 March, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt introduced whole of population telehealth services, following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, patients eligible for Medicare can now receive treatment by any qualified practitioner for any condition, provided it’s safe and clinically appropriate.

The digital health revolution

The trend is not unique to Australia. Across the world, healthcare practitioners have turned to technology to help them care for patients during the COVID-19 crisis. We expect the next couple of years will see telehealth become far more prominent globally, as vendors focus on developing solutions which harness the extraordinary power of digital to deliver lower cost, more responsive care to a greater number of patients. At Apple’s June 2020 Worldwide Developer Conference, CEO Tim Cook told attendees the biggest contribution the company had yet to make was in the realm of health. Throwing Apple’s weight behind the creation of apps to help individuals monitor their health and wellbeing is likely to lead to a wave of digital innovation.

Protecting the health of senior Australians in 2020 and beyond

Minister Hunt’s decision to open up telehealth to the masses has been a boon for older Australians, particularly those living in aged care facilities who were deemed to be at significant risk from COVID-19.

Being able to access treatment from familiar healthcare practitioners has provided this cohort of vulnerable patients with continuity of care and extraordinary reassurance during a time of immense upheaval and uncertainty.

In fact, the success of the COVID-19 telehealth initiative has arguably created an imperative for aged care providers to continue to facilitate this model of care, for residents willing to access it, even as restrictions ease and life returns to normal. While some senior Australians are digitally savvy and can navigate their way around apps with the same ease as their digital native descendants, others require a little or a lot of help to make use of the technology.

For aged care providers, there are a couple of ways this senior ‘skills gap’ could be addressed. Acquiring a fleet of communal devices and configuring them for ease of use would eliminate the need for residents to invest in technology and training, thus putting paid to the main barrier to adoption.

For smaller facilities which don’t have inhouse IT resources, partnering with a services provider to maintain and manage the equipment and software may make sense. Providers may also choose to deploy a mobile device management solution to automate the process of configuring, updating and securing multiple tablets.

Time to act

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has suddenly become a viable alternative to in-person consultations for all Australians. The onus is now on aged care providers to put it within reach for their residents, through a modest investment in technology and services.

Adam Mahmud is industry lead – healthcare at JAMF.

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One comment

  1. It is a great help however works even better with a Nurse Practitioner working with the older person and Telehealth with the GP – shame the government does not recognise their expertise and talent and remunerate them (NPs) through the MBS for this – this will also allow an appropriate physical assessment to be completed at the time for the GP and hopefully reduce any chance of inappropriate medications or diagnosis as the GP could not be fully ‘hands on’ (not through any fault of their own)

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