Have you ever had to wait days for an appointment to see a doctor to get a repeat prescription or a medical certificate? Needed medical assistance overnight or outside of standard business hours? Thanks to telehealth, ‘online doctors’ are fast becoming Australia’s new normal way to consult GP when it’s most convenient for you, and needed most.
An online doctor (sometimes referred to as a ‘virtual doctor’ or ‘telemedicine doctor’) is generally a telehealth medical service which provides face-to-face doctor consultations using video calls via a mobile phone or computer. This type of consulting, called ‘telehealth’ has grown rapidly with advancements in technology.
With the spread of the Coronavirus more doctors adopted the technology, enabling thousands of people to access their services during this difficult time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there were only 41 doctors per 10,000 people in Australia 2020. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), almost 25% of the people seeking a doctor’s consultation faced delays due to scarcity of appointments or long waiting times, demonstrating the demand-supply gap and the pressure faced by the Australian healthcare system. This situation worsens according to the geographical location of the patient. According to AIHW, almost 7 million Australians live in rural or remote areas, limiting access and availability to timely healthcare.
Delays in getting to see a doctor, limited access to healthcare in rural and remote areas, the convenience of having a consultation at a time and place that suits and access to after-hours care are amongst the factors driving the popularity of telehealth services.
Most online doctor services provide the option for the patient to take the consultation via either a mobile device (mobile phone, tablet) or a desktop computer, allowing the freedom to choose where to have the consult. Whilst some providers allow the choice between a video or voice only consult, it is deemed best practice for the doctor to be able to engage with the patient visually via a video telehealth consultation.
Before seeing the doctor, the patient is required to provide their relevant personal details. Services should only ask for information directly related to your telehealth service, and provide transparent details on how the service encrypts your data. Generally, this includes
Depending on the online doctor service, you’ll either book an appointment from an online calendar, or with an on-demand online doctor service (like Hola Health) and be placed in a virtual waiting room immediately after providing your personal details, ready to see the next available practitioner. If a patient has an existing relationship with the online doctor (e.g. a face to face consultation has been had in the last 12 months) a Medicare rebate may be available. For those patients who haven’t seen the consulting doctor before, the consult is privately billed, and the patient is responsible for the full cost.
During an online consultation, the doctor will seek to understand the patients’ health history along with any current symptoms. Not all consultation types are available via telehealth, so it’s important to understand which types of services telehealth is best used for. These include:
There are many benefits to using an online doctor service, including;
Providing online doctor consultations as an interim care giver service used when existing GP practices are either full or unavailable, unlocks supply that has traditionally been inaccessible to patients. Additionally, people in rural and remote areas where in person care is highly limited or non-existent, are able to connect to a doctor in a timely manner without the need to travel long distances.
Consult a doctor with the click of a button without ever needing to leave the house. Medical certificates, prescriptions and referrals all delivered to the patients mobile device or email address. With some online doctor services, patients can even get any prescription medicine generated from an online consult delivered direct to their door.
Being in a new place and not knowing where to get access to care can be daunting. Using an online doctor means you don’t need to battle to find a GP practice and secure an appointment.
Online consultations can be quick and effective anytime day or night, reducing the need for patients to attend hospital emergency rooms for non-urgent illnesses.
Telehealth and telemedicine have become an essential part of healthcare in Australia. Technology is changing our lives rapidly with convenient time-saving applications everywhere. A recent analysis from McKinsey & Company indicates that telehealth or online doctor services had stabilized at 38 times pre-covid usage. There is an increase in the willingness to use an online doctor by consumers as well as an acceptance of the change by the broader health industry. Governments have also recognized the need to support this evolving practice of care, enabling regulatory change in support of wider access to telehealth. This area is quickly evolving with innovation fostered by private companies and public organisations alike.
1. WHO, Medical Doctors per 10,000 (Population) – Reference Link
2. AIHW, General Practice, Allied Health and other primary care services: Reference Link
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare – https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/rural-remote-australians/rural-and-remote-health, 2023
4. McKinsey: Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? Reference Link
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.