As the world becomes technology-centric, access to medical care is revolutionised in the form of Telehealth. People can now utilise telehealth consults, get online scripts, referrals and more with the click of a button. Telehealth encompasses virtual appointments with healthcare providers via video calls, phone calls, or messaging platforms.

It offers numerous benefits, including convenience, accessibility, and efficiency. However, while telehealth consults are suitable for various medical concerns, there are instances where an in-person visit to your general practitioner (GP) remains essential. Understanding when to utilise telehealth consults and when to visit your GP physically is crucial for optimal healthcare management.

The Advent of Telehealth in Australia

According to a report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, almost all Australian adults now have internet access, using it for various activities like work, study, leisure, and shopping. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, more people have turned to telehealth services because of movement restrictions and to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This has led to people of all ages using online platforms for medical consultations.

The National Digital Health Strategy is a big part of this change, focusing on using telehealth to make healthcare easier to access, faster, and more focused on the patient. Statistics from Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy reveal that one out of every 20 Google searches in Australia is health-related, with 84% of users turning to the internet first for health information. Moreover, 69% of older Australians utilise the internet to access health information, underscoring the pervasive integration of digital technology into daily life.

According to a press release from the Department of Health and Aged Care in Australia, between March 13, 2020, and March 16, 2022, more than 100 million telehealth services were provided to approximately 17 million Australians nationwide.

Telehealth vs. Face-To-Face Visits

Telehealth appointments focus on the convenience and accessibility of the patient. Though this is helping solve the problem of waiting for a doctor’s appointment at a clinic for days together, there are some limitations to this type of consult. An online doctor cannot examine a patient physically or conduct any procedure such as pap smears or other tests. Here’s a comparative overview between telehealth and in-person appointments:

Telehealth Consultations:

  1.  Convenience: Provides convenient access to healthcare services from the comfort of home or any location with internet access. This eliminates the need for travel and waiting room times. You can now apply for a telehealth medical certificate or get online pharmacy delivery.
  2. Accessibility: Telehealth overcomes geographical barriers, enabling patients in remote or underserved areas to connect with healthcare. It enhances access to specialists and reduces disparities in healthcare delivery.
  3. Timeliness: Telehealth often offers shorter wait times for appointments, facilitating prompt access to medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment recommendations.
  4. Round-the-clock Care: Most telehealth services are operating 24/7. This means that you can easily get an after-hours appointment or weekend healthcare without visiting a clinic at odd times.
  5. Cost-Effectiveness: Telehealth can be more cost-effective for patients, eliminating travel expenses and reducing time away from work.
  6. Secure and safe: Most telehealth providers adhere to patient confidentiality protocols. They enable secure telehealth payments and services.
  7. Continuity of Care: Telehealth supports ongoing communication between patients and healthcare providers, facilitating continuity of care. It enables follow-up appointments, medication management through telehealth prescriptions, and monitoring of chronic conditions remotely.

One of the primary limitations of telehealth is the inability to conduct comprehensive physical examinations. Diagnostic procedures such as blood tests, imaging studies, or physical assessments requiring specialised equipment cannot be conducted through telehealth, potentially delaying accurate diagnosis and treatment. Patients may still need to visit healthcare facilities for procedures such as vaccinations, wound care, or medication administration, despite having telehealth consultations for other aspects of their care. Furthermore, the quality of healthcare delivery can vary depending on the healthcare provider’s level of expertise and the technology used, so it is important to ensure that telehealth providers are properly credentialed. It’s also important to note that telehealth is only effective where the patient has access to minimum technological requirements such as reliable and suitably fast internet access, a webcam, and a private space for consultation.

Face-to-Face Visits:

  1. Direct Observation: Healthcare providers can directly observe patients’ symptoms during in-person visits, facilitating a better understanding and assessment of their health status. This is especially needed for certain conditions that cannot be diagnosed online such as appendicitis or heart failure
  2. Personal Connection: This fosters a sense of trust, empathy, and rapport between patients and healthcare providers. Personal connections build a strong patient-healthcare provider relationship and are effective for communication, shared decision-making, and patient satisfaction. This will also make follow-up appointments easier as the doctor is aware of the patient’s history.
  3. Emergency Care: In emergencies or urgent medical situations, in-person visits to healthcare facilities are essential. This enables prompt evaluation, stabilisation, and treatment. Immediate access to medical care can be lifesaving in critical situations.
  4. Diagnostic Procedures: Getting diagnostic procedures, or patients with complex medical concerns and who require procedural care will benefit from in-person visits.

When to Book a Telehealth Appointment?

Booking a telehealth appointment is appropriate for various situations, including:

  1. Routine Medical Queries: Telehealth Appointments are suitable for addressing routine medical concerns, such as medication refills, minor ailments (e.g., colds, coughs, flu, allergies), and general health inquiries.
  2. Chronic Disease Management: Patients with chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes, blood pressure, asthma) can benefit from regular telehealth appointments for medication management, symptom monitoring, and lifestyle recommendations.
  3. Follow-Up Appointments: Telehealth appointments are ideal for follow-up visits to review treatment progress, discuss test results, and address any ongoing health concerns identified during previous consultations.
  4. After-Hours Care: It is now easy to get an online appointment during after-hours or weekends.
  5. Non-Emergency Care: For non-urgent medical issues that do not require immediate physical examination or intervention, such as rashes, mild infections, or mental health consultations, telehealth appointments offer a convenient alternative to in-person visits.
  6. Medical Certificates: You can apply for a single-day or multi-day medical certificate online within 15 minutes, 24/7.
  7. Online prescriptions: You can apply for an eScript for single or multiple medications, and refills online.
  8. Preventive Care: Telehealth appointments can be used for preventive health screenings, and counselling on healthy lifestyle habits (e.g., diet, exercise, smoking cessation, alcohol disorders).
  9. Mental Health Support: Telehealth appointments are valuable for mental health consultations, therapy sessions, and counselling services, providing accessible and confidential support for individuals experiencing anxiety, stress, depression, or other mental health issues. You can get a Mental Health Treatment Plan online or speak with a telehealth psychologist.
  10. Referrals: Patients can get pathology referrals, radiology referrals, specialist referrals, Blood test referrals, X-ray, or MRI referrals through telehealth consults.
  11. Accessibility Needs: Telehealth appointments offer convenience and accessibility for individuals with mobility limitations, and transportation barriers, or those residing in rural or remote areas where in-person healthcare services may be limited.

When to Physically See a Doctor or GP?

Physical visits to a doctor or general practitioner (GP) are necessary in various situations, including:

  1. Physical Examination: Conditions requiring hands-on assessment, palpation, auscultation, or visual inspection, such as abdominal pain, chest pain, injuries, or suspicious skin lesions, warrant an in-person visit for comprehensive evaluation.
  2. Diagnostic Testing: Certain diagnostic tests and procedures, such as blood tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, or biopsies, cannot be performed remotely and require patients to visit a healthcare facility.
  3. Emergencies: Medical emergencies, including severe injuries, chest pain, breathing difficulties, sudden onset of severe pain, or symptoms of stroke, require immediate evaluation and treatment in person at an emergency department.
  4. Procedures: Medical procedures such as vaccinations, injections, wound care, suturing, or minor surgeries necessitate in-person visits to ensure proper treatment delivery, monitoring, and patient safety.
  5. Complex Medical Concerns: Patients with complex medical histories, undiagnosed symptoms, or acute illnesses may require comprehensive evaluation and management.
  6. Physical Therapy or Rehabilitation: Physical therapy sessions, rehabilitation exercises, or hands-on treatments for musculoskeletal injuries or conditions often require in-person visits to a physical therapist or specialist.
  7. Prenatal Care: Pregnant individuals require regular prenatal check-ups and obstetric care, including physical examinations, foetal monitoring, and ultrasound scans.
  8. Preventative Care: It is important to get regular physical check-ups even in the absence of symptoms as part of preventive healthcare which is not fully achievable via telehealth. 

Telehealth consultations offer convenience, accessibility, and timeliness, making them suitable for routine medical queries, chronic disease management, and follow-up appointments. However, face-to-face visits remain essential for physical examinations, diagnostic procedures, and managing complex medical concerns. Patients can make informed decisions to optimise their healthcare experience, ensuring timely access to quality medical services by understanding when to approach for an in-person appointment or a telehealth consultation.

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.