The Covid-19 pandemic has been an exhausting and testing time for us all in many ways. For our healthcare system in particular, the need to adapt and evolve to provide essential services to the community without placing anyone at increased risk of contracting the virus was critical. And now, almost a year since the pandemic first hit, we see changes that were made to our healthcare system under the pressures of COVID-19 cementing their place in the future of our systems.1 Below, we detail the top three new healthcare trends staying post COVID.
The first of the three new healthcare trends staying post COVID: telehealth. Although not a new service, telehealth came into the forefront of healthcare during the Covid-19 pandemic. The use of telehealth provided a solution to delivering healthcare services while helping to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Telehealth has allowed greater accessibility of healthcare services for Australian’s and is an undeniably convenient and time-efficient alternative to face-to-face consultations. There is much debate over cost, choice, efficacy, and convenience of telehealth services. Studies have highlighted benefits and barriers of this type of service. An Australian study published in 2013-2014 highlighted potential benefits of telehealth as it found within 300 telehealth patients, there was a reduction in hospital admissions. Additionally, the study found improvement in patient health literacy and health behaviours, and reported improvements in anxiety, depression and quality of life.2 While telehealth will never be able to replace physical contact in face-to face consults, it provides great opportunities to reach and help more people, especially those vulnerable and suffering. Federal health minister Greg Hunt announced in late 2020 ‘Universal whole-of population telehealth … will now be permanent,’. Additionally, a large survey of Australian healthcare providers found 87% of respondents reported interest in continuing to use telehealth if Medicare continued to fund it.
2. Electronic scripts
In May 2020, the first electronic prescriptions were prescribed and dispensed in Victoria. Again, the Australian healthcare system implemented another new healthcare trend to protect vulnerable citizens and health care providers from exposure to the COVID-19 illness. With this new technology the process of prescribing and dispensing medication is much easier for health care providers and the patients. It also integrates seamlessly with telehealth services and may also help reduce the risk of prescribing and dispensing errors. As patients we have complete choice over which pharmacy we want to attend to fill prescriptions, and we get to ditch the waiting time at the doctors clinic. Of course, paper prescriptions will still be available to those who prefer.
3. Reshaping the Healthcare System
Although our healthcare system is highly regarded, the Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered many challenges and areas for improvement. One aspect of this is ‘weighting of services towards treatment of acute illness rather than prevention or wellness promotion’. In Australia we often see funding head towards short term projects instead of into longer term structural reforms.
An example of this is mental health. Mental health has been of great concern throughout the duration of the pandemic and continues to be a priority for our healthcare system. There is pressure to reshape systems to provide quality mental healthcare to all Australians. A positional paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry included the implementation of a Covid-19 related physical and mental health monitoring system. The system would include outcomes related to mental health service use which would inform and shape optional mental health care for the future. The system also focuses on the promotion of new practices that expand access and provide cost-effective delivery of mental health services to those who already have mental disorders or have developed them during the pandemic. Additionally, the system will focus on individualised services, upscaling and refinement of effective practices and promotion of primary care support, and integration with secondary care.
Another potential new healthcare trend to focus on has been a push for clinicians and consumers to become more aware of the increasing growth of waste in healthcare, and the potential harms of unnecessary investigations and treatments. Programs such as Evolve and Choose Wisely are promoting the global healthcare initiative to provide high-quality, safe care to Australians.
(2) Fisk M, Livingstone A, Pit SW. Telehealth in the Context of COVID-19: Changing Perspectives in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. J Med Internet Res. Published online June 9, 2020:e19264. doi:10.2196/19264
(3) Blecher GE, Blashki GA, Judkins S. Crisis as opportunity: how COVID‐19 can reshape the Australian health system. Medical Journal of Australia. Published online August 9, 2020:196. doi:10.5694/mja2.50730
(4) Moreno C, Wykes T, Galderisi S, et al. How mental health care should change as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet Psychiatry. Published online September 2020:813-824. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(20)30307-2