Just 18 months on – the rapid growth of Telehealth at Western Health
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused health services around the world to adapt quickly to new and challenging circumstances to keep their patients safe and healthy.
Western Health has been no different in this, and the growth of our Telehealth service over the past 18 months has been integral to providing continuous care for our community.
With the pandemic triggering a rapid change in how we deliver care, Western Health launched the first of their Telehealth services on March 20th, 2020, and has continued to expand their services to 45 active clinics.
With Melbourne spending large parts of 2020 and 2021 in lockdown, Telehealth has become a vital tool for ensuring patients in our Western community (including those overseas) are able to access care for appointments such as Physiotherapy, Speech Pathology and Cardiology.
Western Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Paul Eleftheriou said it had been great to see the organisation adapt to Telehealth so quickly and ensure continuity of care for our patients.
“To see our clinicians so quickly embrace using Telehealth has been truly inspiring,” Paul said.
“There are many benefits to Telehealth and ongoing opportunities for providing care over distance, so I thank all those who have worked extraordinarily hard to implement Telehealth and those who have welcomed this new way of working to ensure our patients continue to receive Best Care.”
Telehealth has become particularly prominent in the Allied Health space.
In the first two months of Telehealth, appointments grew from less than 5% to approximately 65% of all outpatient Allied Health appointments. The uptake of Telehealth has continued since its launch, with 4380 Allied Health appointments in the first three months of the system, and 14,600 Allied Health appointments in the 2020/21 financial year, despite Melbourne emerging from lockdown for most of this time.
Allied Health Strategy, Planning, Innovation, Research and Education Unit manager, Chris Weiers, said Telehealth had allowed clinics to adapt quickly to lockdown restrictions to ensure no patient was left behind.
“As restrictions were eased and then re-imposed over the past 12 months Allied Health have demonstrated an ability to seamlessly shift between the two modalities as required,” Chris said.
“Allied Health will continue to refine a hybrid model of care where patients have a choice to attend in person or via Telehealth where possible.”
Currently, nearly 80% of all Allied Health services are delivered via Telehealth, including 4094 Telehealth appointments from July to September, 2021.
Telehealth has also been an incredibly valuable resource for supporting some of the most vulnerable in our community, with Western Health social workers able to continue providing care and guidance throughout the pandemic.
Women’s and Children’s Social Worker, Karina Rosa, said Telehealth had helped provide peace of mind for many.
“During the past 18 months, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on community services, leaving them with limited resources and capacity to support families in need,” Karina said.
“During a time of uncertainty and reduced resources, Telehealth has enabled Social Workers at Western Health to continue to provide best patient care by providing therapeutic support, completing risk and safety assessments and linking women and children to available services promptly and efficiently.”
With Telehealth services continuing to expand and offer more clinics to our community, it is clear this is one of the key growth areas for Western Health and a big part of our push towards becoming a fully digital health service.