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Here to stay? Older Australians embrace telehealth and are willing to use it post COVID-19

There are many things that older Australians would like to see return to “normal” post-COVID, but there is one change they are very keen to keep – telehealth – according to new research undertaken by the Global Centre for Modern Ageing (GCMA).

Telehealth, whether accessed by phone or online, has worked well for older Australians, with more than 60 per cent of people aged over 60 surveyed nationally saying they were willing to use telehealth in the future.

The GCMA research is part of an ongoing study and has been released in a report Telehealth – Here To Stay? revealing that most older Australians who used telehealth during the pandemic found their experience to be similar to or better than a face-to-face consultation.

For both phone and online consultations, 85 per cent of older Australians said the quality of care/treatment provided was the same or better than normal, and 88 per cent said the value for money was the same or better than they usually experienced.

“Older Australians like telehealth for its convenience, reduced travel and ability to be conducted at home,” said GCMA chief executive Julianne Parkinson.

More than two in three Australians (67 per cent) aged over 60 who used telehealth during the pandemic said they would feel confident using telehealth in the future. Nearly half (49 per cent) of Australians aged over 60 who used telehealth during the pandemic said they were likely to use telehealth after the pandemic.

The survey of more than 1200 people also discovered privacy concerns did not appear to be a major issue for older people using telehealth. Almost all of those surveyed (more than 95 per cent) aged over 60 said telehealth privacy was the “same as normal” or “better than normal” when compared to face-to-face appointments. For online consultations, 95 per cent said appointment privacy was the “same as normal” or “better than normal”. For phone consultations, 97 per cent said privacy was the “same as normal” or “better than normal”.

“What is very apparent is that offering consultations via telephone as well as online is important to Australians aged over 60,” Ms Parkinson said. “Older Australians were more likely than younger Australians to have taken part in a telephone telehealth appointment during the pandemic. We found 44 per cent of people aged over 60 took part in a telephone telehealth appointment or consultation, versus 33 per cent of adults aged under 60.”

In contrast, one in five older (20 percent) Australians surveyed by the GCMA took part in an online appointment or consultation with a health professional during COVID-19.

“The experience of those who took part in digital consultations was positive,” said Ms Parkinson. “We learnt that 90 per cent of Australians aged over 60 who took part in an online telehealth consultation found booking the appointment the same or better than a normal consultation. And 85 per cent of older Australians who took part in an online telehealth consultation found it easy or very easy to log in or set up their online appointment.”

While a largely positive experience, 38 per cent of Australians aged over 60 did have some difficulties using telehealth. Challenges included: the inability to have a problem examined or receive usual treatment; a less personal experience due to lack of body language and cues; less perceived warmth and less perceived care; difficulties for people with hearing impairment; awkwardness, especially with a new clinician, and; tech glitches, a lack of appropriate tech and a lack of tech confidence.

Ms Parkinson said the disruption created by the pandemic had presented a unique opening for telehealth. “The positive sentiment for telehealth has created a window for the broader industry to secure the uptake of telehealth into the future by designing and delivering services to meet older people’s needs.

“Now is the time for the industry to act – as people regain broader choices for health consultations, the telehealth experience will need to be compelling for health professionals and patients to support its ongoing adoption. This will need careful thought, planning and design of appropriate services and processes.”

Ms Parkinson said the study’s findings would help to inform industry and government about older people’s experiences of telehealth.

“We can see what has worked well with telehealth and have also uncovered some of the challenges,” she said.

Researchers at the GCMA conducted the online study from May 19 – May 31. The Telehealth – Here To Stay? report can be downloaded at gcma.net.au.

The GCMA is not-for-profit based in Adelaide and is dedicated to improving the lives of older people.

 

About the Global Centre for Modern Ageing

Through advocacy, market development, partnerships, research and learning, the Global Centre for Modern Ageing is committed to improving the lives of older people. The GCMA works closely with organisations and individuals to devise, build and commercialise products and services that allow older people to live and age well.

Located at South Australia’s Tonsley Innovation District, the Global Centre for Modern Ageing operates LifeLab – a leading, real-time test facility that allows businesses and research partners to invent and trial products and services for older people in a simulated ‘real-life’ environment.

www.gcma.net.au

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