Since the outbreak of COVID-19, disruptions to traditional health services and an increasing demand for telehealth have accelerated the use of telehealth services in Australia. Telehealth psychology is playing a major part in replacing traditional consultation methods by making use of channels like video conferencing, email, and audio calls through telemedicine software.
Restrictions imposed during the pandemic have severely affected in-person consultations, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey conducted among 130 countries from June to August 2020. 67% of the nations polled reported interruptions in counselling and psychotherapy services, and 30% reported access to medicines for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders as a problem.
In this article, we will look at how telehealth psychology is changing the telemedicine landscape in Australia, how mental healthcare providers can benefit from government schemes, and the advantages of online therapy in the context of the Australian healthcare industry.
What is telehealth psychology?
Telehealth psychology is the practice of providing mental healthcare services with the use of technological or virtual tools to assist patients, something which is not new to the Australian population. The Australian Government authorised the provision of telehealth services under Medicare before the onset of the pandemic. People living in rural or remote communities can avail these services under the Better Access project.
A recent survey conducted by Capterra found that 79% of Aussies would continue using the telemedicine services after the pandemic. Moreover, 72% of the respondents also admitted that a teleconsultation was enough for them to solve their health issues.
With such a response towards telehealth services amidst COVID-19, the government has allowed Australians to have up to 10 Medicare rebates per year with a registered psychologist. This scheme is especially beneficial for the folks living in rural and remote areas of the country, who now can consult GPs, psychiatrists, and psychologists via video conferencing. Moreover, with rapid implementation of AI in the Australian healthcare sector, the accessibility of such services, both by patients and doctors, has increased manifold.
Types of telehealth psychology services
With a better understanding of the types of telehealth services available, mental health professionals can find which service best fits their needs and those of their patients. One of the most common types of telepsychology services available is live video conferencing. As the name suggests, it lets the patients consult their healthcare provider using video calls with the help of simple or specialised software that provides remote care capabilities to medical providers.
For people living in rural or remote areas with limited access to advanced healthcare facilities and doctors, asynchronous telehealth, also known as store-and-forward, is a good option. This method lets users record their concerns and medical history, which can be recovered afterwards by another professional or staff member located in a different geographical area.
Among other methods is mobile health (mHealth), which makes use of smart and mobile devices and remote patient monitoring (RPM) to collect patients’ vitals remotely.
Delivery of telehealth psychology services
To protect healthcare professionals from the risk of contracting COVID-19, the Australian Government Department of Health has made the delivery of services and items contact-free and remote. All consultations can be made via video conferencing or telephone calls with practitioners.
Prescriptions can also be uploaded electronically through clinical software by converting the handwritten prescription to a digital copy, which can directly be sent to the patient’s preferred choice of pharmacy. The pharmacist can then dispense the medication from the electronic prescription. Alternatively, the prescriber can also send the handwritten prescription to the patient’s postal address.
The government has also rolled out the Home Medicines Service, wherein patients can receive medicines directly at their home address in exchange for a small fee.
How to access Medicare funding
As part of the COVID-19 response, the Australian Government has announced that it will fund up to 10 telehealth or video psychotherapy sessions for Australians. In order to avail the services, the patient needs to make an appointment with a GP, psychiatrist, or paediatrician. Upon further assessment of the condition, the doctor provides the user with a Mental Health Treatment Plan under the Better Access to Mental Health Care service.
Benefits of telehealth psychology
Telehealth psychology services have not only evolved with time, they have also found greater acceptance among patients. People with limited access to healthcare and transportation services may find their alternative in telemedicine. Not just that, telehealth services involve less risk of being exposed to viruses and other airborne diseases, hence slowing the spread of infections.
Telemonitoring consultations allow patients to manage their conditions at home and stay closer to their support systems as well.
Some mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or agoraphobia, may make it difficult for patients to leave the house for therapy. Telepsychology could provide support to people who might not otherwise seek care for these issues.
Online consultations can also help reduce no-shows as patients living in rural parts have to drive long distances to reach healthcare facilities, especially when one-third of Australia’s 23 million people live in rural or remote locations.
Challenges of using telehealth services
Despite so many people turning to telehealth services, one of their major concerns remains data confidentiality and data privacy. Since the passage of information remains mostly online, the potential for privacy leaks increases. 65% of Australians are concerned that their data is at the risk of being shared with third parties by app providers.
As some of these services require special applications and software to be installed on phones, this may pose a barrier to adoption. A survey conducted by Capterra found that 71% of Aussies don’t use healthcare apps at all. Moreover, since online services rely heavily on the internet, a weak connection and delayed response can make it difficult to deal with critical cases and emergencies.
Where are we heading with telepsychology?
While it is difficult for technology to completely replace humans, telehealth services have played a major role during the pandemic. Telepsychology provides a convenient method of providing a range of mental healthcare services to people with inadequate access to quality healthcare.
Not just that, this no-contact/low-contact medium of consultation has contributed significantly to decreasing the spread of the virus and helping those in need.
With the Australian Government rolling out benefits and waivers under different health schemes for the affected population, telepsychology consultations can open new avenues for mental health professionals. With advancement in technology and growing demand for telehealth services in Australia, telepsychology can offer long-term solutions to the problems faced by both patients and doctors.