Kymberly Martin
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Telehealth: Call for more inclusive approaches

The upsurge in new telehealth services, driven by COVID-19, has generated a push for a more thorough evaluation of their effectiveness and how many of these healthcare services are being delivered.

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There is a danger that the ad hoc adoption of technology-based innovations may result in them being short-lived and later discarded, due to their narrow impact and lack of integration with existing ‘infostructure’.

“Changes in care delivery processes and mechanisms have been very widespread, from primary to acute care,” Australasian Telehealth Society national president, Jackie Plunkett said. “We need to learn from this experience and ensure we have enough flexibility and resilience in our health systems to enable changes like this to happen safely and sustainably into the future.”

Society vice-president Alan Taylor recently initiated a national survey to capture some of this knowledge on the adoption of telehealth services in response to the pandemic. “We can see that there has been a much wider use of telehealth, in many different settings, than simply the adoption of telephone consultations which have captured so much public attention,” he said.

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In addition to teleconsultation there were many instances of new services in remote patient monitoring, independent living support and health related communications during isolation, he said.

And while the multiplicity of new services is a bonanza for the digital health market, it brings with it an unmet need for considering how to join up and sustain these many independent initiatives.

According to Flinders Digital Health Research Centre co-director, Professor Anthony Maeder it is just as important to follow up with critique and evaluation of new telehealth and e-health services, as it is to develop the new services in the first place.

And the new telehealth, remote monitoring and mobile app services that are emerging will also impact consumers in the disability and special needs sector just as strongly, he told F2L. “Given the vulnerability of that sector, our message that post-introduction evaluation of new services is needed, deserves to be strongly reinforced as being highly relevant,” he said.

“Only with a systematic and comprehensive structured approach such as we have suggested, can the impact and potential of these new digital technology enabled health services be fully evaluated.”