Australians unsure about telehealth

Robyn Wuth and Aaron Bunch

Plans to roll out telehealth services across the country to combat the spread of coronavirus may hit a hurdle, with the majority of Australians fearing they could be exposed to data hacking and identity theft.

The federal government will make telehealth services available to the entire population, allowing people to consult remotely with general practitioners, specialists and mental health and allied health professionals from Monday.

However, Australians are not confident using Facetime and WhatsApp for medical consultations and would prefer to see doctors in person, new research has found.

More than 80 per cent of Australians surveyed said they did not feel confident using health technology, a survey of more than 1000 people released on Friday found.

The study also found seven out of 10 people were concerned about concern about data security and identity protection.

But the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says telehealth care is an essential tool as the country works through the coronavirus crisis.

"GPs are a fundamental part of Australia's frontline defence against COVID-19 and it's essential that we have the support we need to continue providing safe and high-quality patient care," RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon said.

He said virtual consultation would allow doctors to help more people while protecting themselves other patients and staff.

However, some patients with serious conditions will still need to visit a hospital or a clinic.

"GPs will need to use their discretion to opt to see patients face-to-face," Dr Nespolon said.

The research was conducted by public relations company Red Havas Australia.

Health communications expert Sue Cook said communicating in the right way is imperative.

"We need to ensure these services, which are so critical at this time, are being fully utilised so that vulnerable members of the community do not fall off the healthcare radar entirely."