Telehealth‘s future in Australian primary health care: a qualitative study exploring lessons learnt from the COVID-19pandemic

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Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth emerged as a means of safely providing primary healthcare (PHC) consultations. In Australia, changes to telehealth funding led to the reconsideration of the role of telehealth in the ongoing provision of PHC services. Aim: To investigate GPs’, registered nurses‘ (RNs), nurse practitioners‘ (NPs), and allied health (AH) clinicians perceptions of the sustainability of telehealth in PHC post-pandemic. Design & setting: Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 33 purposively selected clinicians, including GPs (n = 13), RNs (n = 5), NPs (n = 9), and AH clinicians (n = 6) working in PHC settings across Australia. Participants were drawn from responders to a national survey of PHC providers (n = 217). Method: The thematic analysis approach reported by Braun and Clarke was used to analyse the interview data. Results: Data analysis revealed that the perception of providers was represented by the following two themes: lessons learnt; and the sustainability of telehealth. Lessons learnt included the need for rapid adaptation to telehealth, use of technology, and the pandemic being a catalyst for long-term change. The sustainability of telehealth in PHC comprised four subthemes around challenges: the funding model, maintaining patient and provider safety, hybrid service models, and access to support. Conclusion: Providers required resilience and flexibility to adapt to telehealth. Funding models must reward providers from an outcome focus, rather than placing limits on telehealth’s use. Hybrid approaches to service delivery will best meet the needs of the community but must be accompanied by support and education for PHC professionals.

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University of Notre Dame



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