Pulse+IT Magazine - February 2014

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PULSEITMAGAZINE.COM.AU

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Guest Editorial

UNDERSTANDING

THE BUSINESS OF ONLINE CARE Technology itself is no longer a barrier for the vast majority of telehealth services in Australia. What remains a barrier is the many issues faced when scaling telehealth services up to a sustainable model. By factoring the true costs of telehealth, you will be able to create a telehealth model that will meet the needs of your practice and your patients.

SAMUEL HOLT samuel.holt@medibank.com.au Director of Online Care, Anywhere Healthcare

The real challenge in telehealth today isn’t technology. It was telehealth early adopters who had to battle through third world-like internet connectivity, expensive hardware-based solutions, a lack of industry standards, a relatively non-existent funding stream and a wall of health industry resistance. Today, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to technology. Inexpensive and free, web-based video conferencing solutions abound, some of which are even interoperable. Broadband and 4G internet is now widely available throughout the country and some parts have access to the NBN. There is a funding stream, via Medicare, that has enabled telehealth to climb out of the closet and into the mainstream, whilst the RACGP and many specialist colleges have created technical and clinical standards to assist clinicians with delivering care online efficaciously.

About the author Sam Holt is the director of online care with Anywhere Healthcare, part of Medibank Health Solutions, which runs an online-only practice with a growing panel of over 30 specialists who provide dedicated telehealth sessions.

The real challenge in telehealth today lies in creating sustainable, profitable business models that can meet the needs of governments, service operators, practices and, of course, patients. While frame rates, compression, 128-bit encryption and other technology terms have dominated telehealth discussions over the last few years, we need to focus on scalability and sustainability to ensure

the industry’s existing investments have not been in vain. And let’s not forget the important `P` word: profitability. Regardless of your view on bulk-billing versus private billing, or for-profit versus not-for-profit, no one can deliver loss-making services sustainably. We need to understand the hidden costs of telehealth that are only now really starting to emerge as programs start to operate at scale.

Supply and demand Delivering a successful telehealth program is fundamentally about matching patient demand with provider supply, whilst maintaining cost effectiveness and efficiency. It has to be a positive experience for patients and providers. If it doesn’t meet these basic needs for either party, it will not be sustainable or scalable. The first question you should be asking yourself is not “what’s the best video conferencing solution for my practice?” but “what’s the business model to help me meet my needs and that of my patients?” To do this properly you need to understand the business of telehealth. Crucially, there are a number of hidden costs in delivering telehealth in small- and large-scale settings.