Preparing Doctors and Clients for Telehealth Readiness
In the last month, the Australian Government introduced telehealth items to the Medicare Benefits Schedule and the NZ Government pledged $20 million to improving telehealth services, enabling the primary care industry to deliver access to care via telehealth on a much broader scale than ever before.
Although telehealth has been utilised in such specialties as radiology, psychiatry and rural medicine for over two decades, the virtual care model is relatively new territory for the primary care sector and the doctors who service it. There are a number of factors to consider, not least of which are platform implementation and adequate onboarding and credentialing of doctors.
General Manager of Ochre Recruitment, Kelly Doran, believes that the primary care sector in Australia and New Zealand is facing somewhat of a digital revolution, and that added assistance from both governments has set the tone for change. We asked Kelly how Ochre Recruitment will be facilitating doctors and clinics in the telehealth era.
In your opinion how could the adoption of a telehealth model potentially change the medical recruitment industry?
Should the government’s telehealth initiatives continue beyond this pandemic, there is the potential for serious disruption in our industry. As a workforce provider, we have the opportunity to add value, however we will need to work quickly to adapt to our industry's changing needs. We have to think beyond COVID-19 and have a long term view, as a I genuinely believe telehealth is here to stay.
How would COVID-19 and the recent advancement in telehealth be affecting doctor recruitment?
Due to the travel restrictions and the fact that many practices do not have the same foot traffic as they did prior to COVID-19, there have been less FIFO locum roles available. So we're finding that in some instances, we’ve got an over surplus of available GPs seeking work within their local communities.
In addition to this, we've had a great response from doctors all around Australia and New Zealand expressing interest in providing services via telehealth. The uptake in terms of the interest level from both a locum and a permanent perspective has been excellent. We're also seeing GPs available for after hours and sessional telehealth work, enabling clients to extend their out-of-hours offering to meet their patients' needs.
The doctors we have been speaking with are also enjoying working from home—this is something many have not had the opportunity to do before. I guess this is an ‘upside’ for some doctors who can now be present at home to assist with childcare and domestic responsibilities. Perhaps long-term, this shift in care delivery has the potential to offer GPs more flexibility and work-life balance that most workers now seek.
Here's an example. We recently had a GP approach one of our consultants to see what permanent opportunities were available in the marketplace—the doctor had been very happy in his existing practice and was constantly booked out. However, the practice owner had been extremely slow to advance their telehealth offering and enable the doctor to continue providing care to his patients, so this doctor is now considering his long-term options.
Ultimately, the doctor felt that the practice owner was neither progressive enough to adapt to this changing environment nor doing their best to protect his long-term business interests. While this is only one person’s story, I think it's a great example of the need to be progressive and consider the impact on businesses and recruitment if people don’t move quickly enough.
How do you think telehealth will change the way doctors relate to their patients over the coming months?
There has been a fear around telehealth making doctors and patients feel disconnected, or that it’s not as good a quality of consult. Some research has disproven that—virtual consults can be high quality interactions and deliver meaningful care. But in order to ensure the interaction between a doctor and patient is meaningful, clients need to think about how they can ensure all parties have an excellent user experience.
We also need to think long-term about what patients want as healthcare consumers. While I am sure the desire to see a GP in a face-to-face setting will continue beyond COVID-19, there will be people who see value in continuing to have access to care via telehealth. We may see people such as working parents, shift workers, and people with travel restrictions wishing to engage with their family doctor outside of this traditional 9-5 setting.
Naturally, there will always be a need for face-to-face care and telehealth can’t compete with this, but done well it can be very complementary to this model and meet many different needs.
How can Ochre Recruitment assist the primary care sector with telehealth during COVID-19 and beyond?
In my experience, providing a telehealth health workforce solution is very different to providing face-to-face care—there are a lot of workforce management and operational nuisances that need to be taken into consideration. Connecting doctors and healthcare clients through a virtual consult is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle when it comes to telehealth. Ensuring doctors have been properly background-checked and have sufficient insurances in place is paramount. Clients should also be prepared to provide doctors with adequate training, technical support, and the appropriate 'work from home' setup, as well as a clear contract of engagement prior to the commencement of any assignment. By understanding what our clients are looking to achieve and how a client’s specific telehealth offering works, we can help with all of this.
Our comprehensive Telehealth Workforce Management solution could also come in handy for practices that do not yet have an established platform in place, or are struggling from an operational viewpoint to extend their telehealth offering with their existing setup.
Whether it’s now or in the future, our mission remains constant: to provide our clients with access to a high quality workforce and our doctors with the best opportunities available in Australia and New Zealand. Our strength is our ability to adapt and deliver. Together we can keep communities healthy, no matter how the service is provided—face-to-face or online.