NBN survey shows lack of consumer awareness of home telehealth

The NBN company has released a report into consumer views about telehealth as it gears up to spruik high-speed broadband as a way to improve telehealth provision, although only 21 per cent of those surveyed had heard of telehealth and most who had used it were doing simple online information searches rather than for video conferencing or communicating with a healthcare professional.

Most were using telehealth for its convenience, to better manage their own or their family's health, or due to the cost or inability to quickly see a doctor, but few said a slow internet speed was a barrier to using telehealth and less than a third said they would make more usage of telehealth if they had a better internet connection.

The findings may reflect the broad definition of telehealth used in the survey, which it describes as "health information and services delivered through the internet in order to support anyone, at any time, in any location".

Of those that had heard of telehealth, only 32 per cent have used it, and the bulk of these have used telehealth for general health information (67%), to book an appointment (36%), or to read patient testimonials to learn more about a topic (28%).

Some have used fitness apps and self-management tools (27%) and some have used health apps (18%), but of the more clinical applications, only 14 per cent had used online support groups such as Beyond Blue, 12 per cent had used email communication with a healthcare professional, seven per cent had accessed electronic health records and just six per cent had used Skype or video conferencing with a doctor.

The survey, carried out last November by research firm Colmar Brunton with a sample size of 1534, was designed to provide evidence to assist the NBN in developing a PR-led communications campaign centred on telehealth, which the NBN is calling its Digital Diagnosis campaign.

The company has developed a consumer-oriented guide to health in the home featuring Sydney GP Ginni Mansberg and Tasmanian GP and GP2U telehealth service founder James Freeman.

The survey also found that 62 per cent of Australians would consult with their GP as the first point of call if a health-related problem, question, issue or illness arose, while 22 per cent would first go online to seek out further information.

Older people and those with chronic conditions were more likely to go straight to their GP, while younger people and pregnant women had a higher propensity to go online or ask a friend or family for advice.

Only four per cent would go to a chemist as the first port of call, but seeking advice from a chemist was the most popular secondary action to be taken, followed by going online. There is little difference between people living in capital cities or regional areas.

Few had a problem arranging an appointment with a GP on the day they wanted, with only 20 per cent saying they had to wait one day and 10 per cent one week, and once they did get to the surgery, 64 per cent had to wait for less than half an hour.

The main reasons given for delaying a visit to the GP were that the individual was not sure if they needed to go, and not wanting to waste time sitting in a waiting room. Taking time off work was also a barrier but the inability to get an appointment was cited by less than 20 per cent of respondents. 15 per cent were worried about cost and 13 per cent were worried about catching an illness while at the doctor's.

21 per cent said they had heard of telehealth, with this figure relatively consistent across age and location, although it is higher in households where there is a child present and the adult is involved in the care of an elderly relative, or what the NBN calls "the sandwich generation".

Regardless of whether they had heard of telehealth previously or not, 25 per cent were very interested in learning more, 57 per cent were somewhat interested and only 18 per cent were not interested.

The key drivers for telehealth usage among those that used it were:

  • For increased speed and convenience (50%)
  • To better manage personal or family health (34%)
  • To help make better informed health decisions about GPs (24%)
  • Can't get in to see a doctor at a time that is convenient (21%)
  • To access services and information not available (20%)
  • To avoid the cost associated with seeing a GP/hospital visit (19%)
  • To avoid being exposed to germs/illnesses from others (16%)
  • To reduce the need to take time of work to go to the doctor (13%)
  • To read/watch patient testimonial/research hospitals or GPs (12%)
  • To seek parenting/childcare advice, health tips, guidance (11%)
  • Too embarrassed to go to GP to discuss a particular problem (7%)
  • To help take care of or monitor an elderly parent or relative (7%)

Reasons why those who were aware of telehealth but had not used it included:

  • Lack of surety as to how to get started (44%)
  • Concerned about reputation/credibility of information available online (31%)
  • Concerned about privacy and security (28%)
  • Lack of need (26%)
  • Concerned about costs (24%)
  • My internet connection is not good enough to allow (8%).

NBN's guide to telehealth in the home is available here.

Posted in Australian eHealth

Tags: Telehealth, NBN


0 # Emma Costello 2016-03-22 14:39
Interesting comments regarding the new Skype-led GP services. My understanding is that Skype is not preferred for clinical consultation as it may not be as secure as dedicated services. This can of course become a barrier to people using telehealth if there isn't a widespread system available for people to use.
+1 # Kate McDonald 2016-03-22 14:47
There are concerns with Skype's security but according to ACRRM, 89 per cent of GP and specialists listed on its telehealth directory use Skype anyway.
0 # Emma Costello 2016-03-23 18:36
I know, it's a bit catch-22 isn't it with no real alternative that will provide the coverage needed to support the general population.

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