Online telehealth consultations the way to go

The move to online telehealth consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic has been rated a success by young Australians and could change the way mental health treatment is accessed, new research from Orygen has found.

The study found that most people with mental illnesses who used telehealth reported a positive impact on the service they received.

Almost all clinicians surveyed endorsed the ongoing use of telehealth to support service delivery.

On the Central Coast, many surgeries such as Coast Health Medical Centre, Kanwal Village Medical Centre, and Budgewoi Medical practice are offering telehealth services that can be booked online.

Other online health services are available as well, such as Health Direct, which enables users to check their symptoms online, and find healthcare providers and information from their website.

Telehealth, a method of delivering healthcare that involves the use of technology such as a mobile phone or a computer, was rapidly implemented in youth mental health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Imogen Bell, who co-authored the Orygen study with Dr Jennifer Nicholas, said digital health researchers had been looking at how to harness digital technologies to deliver mental health services and treatments for several years.

“There has always been a concern that using digital technologies in mental health services settings was never going to be as good as doing things face to face, a view held particularly among clinicians,” said Bell.

“When COVID-19 hit, it allowed us to test this theory,”

More than 300 young people aged between 12-25 years who used mental health, and 92 clinicians, took part in the online survey exploring service provision, use, and quality following the adoption of telehealth.

“The survey showed that most young people felt the quality of service improved when accessed via telehealth, and the results have been published in the journal, Psychiatric Research.

“In particular, young people found access to care via telehealth more convenient, they felt the service met their needs and they felt respected and supported using the service,” said Nicholas.

Clinicians were more tentative, concluding that the telehealth method would not suit some young people, but Dr Nicholas said fears about a general reduction in quality had been allayed.

“Overall, this study showed that concerns around the use of technology leading to the delivery of substandard mental health care were not justified, rather, technology could enhance the mental health services on offer,” said Bell.

The results of the study support the permanent roll out of telehealth services.

“The next step is to research who is best suited to digital technologies and other ways that technology can help make services more accessible and engaging to young people.

“With COVID-19, we are given a huge opportunity to try new things, to change the status quo.

“We’ve learned that telehealth works for most young people, and we want to further this understanding and to apply these teachings wider.

“I think it the way of the future,” said Bell.

Harry Mulholland