Telehealth use in Australian primary healthcare during COVID-19: a cross-sectional descriptive survey

Publication Name

BMJ open


OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to investigate Australian primary healthcare professionals' experiences of the rapid upscaling of telehealth during COVID-19. DESIGN: A cross-sectional survey. PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Two hundred and seventeen general practitioners, nurses and allied health professionals employed in primary healthcare settings across Australia were recruited via social media and professional organisations. METHODS: An online survey was disseminated between December 2020 and March 2021. The survey comprised items about individual demographics, experiences of delivering telehealth consultations, perceived quality of telehealth consultations and future perceptions of telehealth. RESULTS: Telephone was the most widely used method of providing telehealth, with less than 50% of participants using a combination of telephone and video. Key barriers to telehealth use related to the inability to undertake physical examination or physical intervention. Telehealth was perceived to improve access to healthcare for some vulnerable groups and those living in rural settings, but reduced access for people from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Quality of telehealth care was considered mostly or somewhat the same as care provided face-to-face, with actual or perceived negative outcomes related to missed or delayed diagnosis. Overwhelmingly, participants wanted telehealth to continue with guaranteed ongoing funding. Some 43.7% of participants identified the need to further improve telehealth models of care. CONCLUSION: The rapid shift to telehealth has facilitated ongoing care during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, further work is required to better understand how telehealth can be best harnessed to add value to service delivery in usual care.

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