Western Queensland is experiencing a boom in telehealth care with soaring numbers of patients now accessing medical support via telephone and video.
Latest data from GPs in the region show that in the past seven weeks alone, more than 9000 patients have had at least one telehealth phone call with their GP, almost 500 have undertaken a video call with their doctor and almost 800 have consulted a Nurse Practitioner via telephone.
Compiled by the Western Queensland Primary Health Network's Health Intelligence Unit, the figures show that more than 16% of the region's entire population (62,038) have accessed Telehealth since the start of April 2020.
WQPHN CEO Stuart Gordon said this trend was a clear response to the pandemic.
"But we've also considered what the future looks like beyond COVID-19, and what we're seeing is a widespread desire for Telehealth to become a bigger part of primary care in the bush," Mr Gordon said.
"The feedback we're getting is that while issues like connectivity and technical capability need to be addressed, there is strong support across our region for better utilisation of Telehealth in the post-pandemic world."
Mr Gordon said it was pleasing to see the Commonwealth was now indicating rebates for rural and remote Telehealth services may continue beyond September in response to the data.
In a separate WQPHN survey of 59 commissioned health providers (non-GPs), 48% said they'd experienced a "satisfactory or advanced" uptake of Telehealth since the pandemic struck, with 88% "willing to change" by incorporating Telehealth as part of their routine service offering post-COVID.
Also reported in the survey conducted in the last week of April, 55% of providers said telephone was the most popular Telehealth platform, with video at 36% and email at 9%.
WQPHN Executive Manager Sandy Gillies said telehealth care made absolute sense for rural and remote Queenslanders because often a face-to-face consult with the nearest GP, specialist or allied health practitioner could require a full day or more of travel.
"Face-to-face consults will always be the gold-standard when it comes to primary care, but we see Telehealth as a vital adjunct that can improve access to care for remote patients, or those with mobility issues, the elderly, or where cultural barriers exist," Ms Gillies said.
The WQPHN has recently launched a "Telehealth-Care Guide" to help support rural and remote health practitioners build on their knowledge and improve their capacity to deliver Telehealth in the region.
Cloncurry GP Dr Leonie Fromberg said that follow-up appointment does not necessarily have to be a face-to-face.
"It can save patients a lot of time and money and stress if those follow-ups can happen via Telehealth," Dr Fromberg said.
"The tyranny of distance has to be accounted for; we have to implement something else in healthcare out here to help communities."
Renee Blackman, the CEO of Gidgee Healing in Mount Isa said telephones always work.
"So if people can't do video, we're doing a lot of things over the phone as well which is actually suiting people, but it's been a bit of a change," Ms Blackman said.
While you are here subscribe to our weekly email to your inbox every Tuesday and Friday