Health | Insights

Collaborating for equal access to digital health

Telehealth and COVID-19: what are the challenges to supporting participation for the digitally excluded?

By Good Things Foundation Australia · 29/04/2021

Woman using video call with doctor on laptop.

Just this week we have heard that the federal government funded telehealth measures introduced during the pandemic are being extended to the end of 2021. This is great news for the millions of people who have remotely accessed medical services over the past year.

More and more we are hearing about the benefits the long-term implementation of telehealth brings. But how do we make sure that everyone can access it equally?

In 2021, we have continued our partnership with the Australian National University to host the Expanding Digital Health roundtable series. We’ve brought together Australian digital health research, policy expertise and on-the-ground experience to inform the development of effective policy interventions to close the digital health divide across the country.

Held in February and April 2021, the latest series focuses on telehealth and electronic prescriptions to better understand and address the challenges facing people that are digitally excluded and solutions available to close the digital health divide.

Digital health literacy enables people to make informed, confident choices when using online information, tools and resources to support their health and wellbeing. With health services such as telehealth increasingly requiring internet access and smart devices, digital skills and technology are becoming more important than ever. This is true for both healthcare providers and consumers to ensure the best quality care is given.

The roundtables enable us to listen to the voices of leaders and experts in digital health as well as researchers, consumer organisations and healthcare providers. In April, we were joined by senior representatives from organisations including Consumers Health Forum of Australia, National Rural Health Alliance, Australian Digital Health Agency, Services for Rural and Remote Allied Health, Australian Department of Social Services, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Macquarie University Centre for Health Innovation, and many others.

At the two events, we heard that there are multiple challenges for people that are digitally excluded to access digital measures like telehealth. These include:

  • Some people don’t have the basic technology, skills and ability to independently use technology such as telehealth and electronic prescriptions.
  • Some people have a fear of technology, leading to resistance.
  • Many people still don’t have reliable internet access – internet connection can still be poor or non-existent in regional and remote areas.
  • Many people on low-incomes cannot afford the data needed, even if they have a smartphone that can connect.
  • It can be a challenge for people to maintain their privacy when having home telehealth consultations.
  • There is a double challenge for people from non-English speaking backgrounds due to a potential lack of English literacy and digital skills.
  • Ensuring the most appropriate method of care is still given, whether via telehealth or face-to-face.

We will soon release a report from the second Expanding Digital Health roundtable series that will include recommendations to ensure that telehealth and e-prescriptions improve health overall rather than exacerbate health inequality.

If your organisation is interested in being involved to close the digital health divide, please reach out.