Internet video consultations that could help bridge the health gap in country areas are not being used by most doctors in Australia, researchers at Curtin University have found.
Professor Moyez Jiwa, Chair of Health Innovation in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Curtin, said online consultations had the ability to help overcome doctor shortages in rural areas and combat rising costs in the Australian healthcare system.
The use of online video technology is a long way from being “routine practice”, which is now prompting further research.
“Video consultations delivered via the internet have the potential to reduce the need for in-person visits and can connect doctors to patients at home in scheduled online appointments, no matter where they are located,” Professor Jiwa said.
“There is unequal access to healthcare in Australia, particularly for the one-third of the population living in rural and regional areas.
“But the use of online video technology in Australian primary care so far is limited to government-subsidised consultations involving specialist practitioners or to small numbers of privately funded schemes.”
The aim of the Curtin study was to explore the attitudes of Australian doctors toward online video consultation by using a range of patient scenarios presenting different clinical problems.
“In a face-to-face consultation, the doctor can use all five of their senses to assist in diagnosis. But in an internet-based video consultation, access to sensory information is limited, and the quality of information available may be hampered by download speeds and/or the performance of computer hardware,” Professor Jiwa said.
“The results of the study demonstrated that Australian doctors who were favourably inclined toward online consultations were more likely to work in larger practices and were more established, especially in rural areas.
“Doctors appear confident about their ability to conduct online video consultations. However, the process of establishing video consultations as routine practice will need to be endorsed by patients, members of the profession, and funding organisations. Video consultation techniques will also need to be taught in medical schools.
“This research has demonstrated that more investment is needed to encourage doctors to adopt digital technology as part of their regular consultation process for rural and regional areas.
“Investments should include greater access to the internet, funding for equipment such as webcams and headsets and encouraging doctors to use the technology as a means of connecting them to their patients.”
Future research in how best to achieve this is now planned.