This week is Telehealth Awareness Week, a time to reflect on the transformational change that telehealth appointments have made to the patient experience.
At Monash Health, the telehealth revolution played an important role in supporting safe patient care through the COVID-19 pandemic. Post-pandemic, it is now established as a safe, convenient and patient-focused way to monitor patients from the comfort of their home and to bridge access hurdles for many.
“In February 2020, we delivered around 160 telehealth consultations per month,” said Nicole Bate, Monash Health’s Telehealth Service Lead.
“By March 2020, this number had risen by 955% to 1,731 consultations, and by August, we were delivering 15,800 telehealth consultations.”
Fast-forward to 2023 and in the last 12 months, Monash Health has delivered 101,601 telehealth consultations and ranked as the second-highest provider of HealthDirect Video Call consultations in Australia, and we expect this number to continue to climb.
A new patient experience
As the last few years have proven, telehealth offers patients a number of important benefits. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the most critical of these was the ability to keep patients safely away from transmission risks.
Telehealth gives patients the ability to fit in appointments between work and family commitments, reducing the stress and financial impact of travel, parking, and time off from work. It also gives patients in remote areas improved access to care.
“We have a number of high-risk patients living in remote areas or with mobility issues,” said Dr Jennifer Wong from our Diabetes Clinic. “Some have serious conditions that require regular monitoring and for them coming into the hospital can be very difficult. They appreciate the telehealth option and we’ve seen improved attendance as a result.”
Dr Amelia Le Page from our Paedatric Nephrology clinic agrees. “I have a teenage Aboriginal telehealth patient with a chronic disease who lives in a remote community. He is supported by a nurse practitioner and telehealth has worked really well for him and his family.”
Because telehealth appointments can happen from any place, or from multiple locations, it has also given us the ability to have multiple call participants from a number of locations.
“Recently, a patient’s son who was located in New Zealand was able to join in on his mum’s consultation thanks to telehealth,” said Dr Agnes Yuen. “It was great that she was able to work out the technology at 80-years-old for herself. It was fantastic for them.”
Telehealth consultations also support our clinicians, allowing them to work from home and support their work-life balance.
Improving outcomes for our clinics
For Obstetrics, the telehealth revolution has been a game-changer.
“When the pandemic hit, we had to find a way to keep our expectant mums protected from COVID-19, while ensuring we could continue to care for them to the same high standard,” shared Andrea Rindt, Deputy Chief Operating Officer for our Women’s and Children’s Program at Monash Health.
“Telehealth was a transformational solution as it allowed them to be regularly seen from the safety of home.”
A team from Obstetrics, Midwifery, and General Practice established a new approach by integrating telehealth to replace up to two-thirds of in-person antenatal consultations. This was supplemented with patient information sheets, instructional videos and systems for remote blood pressure checks, and to allow patients to measure their tummies for fetal growth assessments.
“We closely monitored pregnancy outcomes and particularly explored these for vulnerable women to ensure we were caring for all women in our community. The response was overwhelmingly positive,” said Andrea.
Between March 2021 and March 2022, our teams delivered 31,537 antenatal telehealth consultations, accounting for 43% of all antenatal consultations.
What our clinicians had to say
“Telehealth is a great way to stay in touch with regional patients,” says Dr Heather Wark from Monash Obstetrics. “We can provide care while utilising local resources to provide the needed face- to-face interactions, and our expertise to guide management decisions.”
Dr Kiarash Taghavi from Monash Children’s Hospital agrees. “Access to healthcare should be equitable and telehealth is a tool that helps this when applied correctly.”
“Think about whether telehealth could help reduce your FTA (fail to attend) rate, especially for patients with chronic disease,” adds Dr Le Page. “It may be an option for those who don’t come to clinic because they are coincidentally unwell, or if they are struggling to get to clinic on time.”
“Through telehealth we can give patients two to three hours back in their day, and we help to minimise the impact that their illness has on their life,” says Dr Agnes Yuen from Haematology.
Associate Professor Bill Mulley sums it up perfectly: “Once you give it a try, you may come to prefer it!”.