Why telehealth is the future of Australia’s healthcare system

Instant Consult

Instant Consult co-founders Travis Brown and Bianca Brown. Source: Supplied.

Improved technology has paved the way for disruptors to infiltrate the market, giving Australian consumers access to almost anything at the tip of their fingers or at the swipe of a smartphone. The ease of ordering food, choosing a potential long-term suiter for a date or buying fast-fashion items and having them delivered to your door in fewer than three-hours has become a societal norm.

While there’s a high chance you’re already familiar with the array of apps that give you more time back in your day, you are probably less familiar with the latest telehealth innovator apps. In a nutshell, telehealth apps connect patients anywhere in Australia with fully qualified and registered GPs through a video call. And while such programs may not be among your most used apps just yet, tech giants and industry innovators are working tirelessly to revolutionise the healthcare system, both here in Australia and overseas.

Still not convinced? Then may we remind you of what Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook had to say in a 2018 interview with CNBC: “If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question: ‘What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?’ It will be about health.” While Cook’s statement is admittedly very grand, if anyone can make it happen, it’s the chief of one of the world’s biggest companies.

But while the incentive for tech giants to jump on the telehealth bandwagon is rooted in the sizeable profit they’re likely to make, average Australians from all corners of the country can benefit from the rise of this new technology too. When you consider those living in rural and remote communities, fly-in-fly-out workers and senior citizens with limited mobility who are unable to access medical services, the need for immediate access to a qualified and registered GPs is obvious. As such, real-time video consultations, effectively gives patients and families seeking unexpected medical care immediate access to qualified doctors, wherever they are, whenever they need it.

In addition to granting everyone access to affordable and quality medical care, telehealth apps have reduced the stigma patients often feel when visiting a doctor’s office, particularly for consultations surrounding mental health or intimate issues. The remote functionality of such apps also means patients can avoid being in the same enclosed space as any number of sick people — a perk we’re sure many would appreciate.

Several disruptors in the health industry have also bridged the gap by partnering with leading Australian pharmacies to grant patients access to digital prescriptions. Not only does this allow patients to receive medication without delay and reduce the strain on the medical system, but it also ensures those who aren’t able to make an appointment to visit their GP during business hours can still access prescribed medication.  

Essentially, while still a relatively new technology, telehealth apps are effectively turning the traditionally reactive approach to healthcare on its head by granting anyone, anywhere, access to a qualified doctor at any time — so long as they have a decent internet connection.

While telehealth programs are currently being designed to subsidise traditional healthcare services, rather than replace them — and for good reason, as face-to-face consultations will always be an essential component of any healthcare system — there’s no doubt the sector is only going to go from strength to strength. We need only look to international examples to see the impact the emerging industry can have. For instance, China’s largest online healthcare app, Ping An Good Doctor, had some 228 million registered users as of June 2018. Similarly, Indonesia’s Halodoc app boasts more than two million users and 20,000 registered doctors. With apps such as these enjoying such rapid expansion in the Asian market, it’s safe to assume Australia is next.

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