SPONSORED: Telehealth becoming a permanent part of the healthcare system is the latest example of lasting digital shifts brought on by the pandemic.
For GPs, the digitisation of practice operations and the patient experience picked up significantly in 2021 and is expected to continue apace in the year ahead.
According to the latest CommBank GP Insights report, released in August 2021, investing in new technology ranked among practices’ top three growth strategies. Most practices intend to lift associated budgets in the next 12 months to support this approach.
This is despite more than one in two practices already spending more on technology than initially planned during 2021, as practices sought to keep pace with patients’ heightened expectations for digitally assisted interactions.
For CommBank Health Chief Executive Officer, Albert Naffah, 2021 was another watershed year for the digital transformation of general practice and Australia’s healthcare system more broadly.
‘We saw GPs respond rapidly to changing conditions and implement digital solutions to ensure continuity of care for Australians, all while managing the enormity of the vaccination rollout,’ Mr Naffah said.
‘Looking ahead, most GPs have signalled their intention to step up investment in technology to meet and exceed patient expectations and drive operational efficiencies.’
The research showed that patients are also noticing, with many indicating that they value the digital solutions adopted by practices. So, as we move into 2022, we look at where GPs are seeking to strengthen their digital capabilities and, in turn, advance their growth plans.
Bridging the physical and digital divide
One of the top benefits of an acceleration of digital interactions between patients and practices amid the pandemic has been the ability to deliver care remotely.
The GP Insights research shows telehealth usage remains elevated, jumping from 4% of all consultations before the pandemic, peaking at 51% in 2020 and settling at 23% in August 2021.
Moreover, almost nine in 10 patients were satisfied with their telehealth experience, and 69% of GPs agreed that it aided the patient experience. When the research was conducted, the vast majority of both practices and patients supported the continued government funding.
Encouragingly, this is now moving ahead following a commitment from the Federal Government of more than $100 million to facilitate a permanent telehealth program.
According to the research, the proliferation of digitally assisted care and remote patient engagement extends beyond telehealth. One in four GPs intend to begin monitoring patient health via remote mobile devices over the next two years, making it the top area of growth for technology adoption.
‘We saw investment in online bookings, reminders and integrated payments solutions grow during the pandemic to the point where they are widely offered by practices,’ Mr Naffah said.
‘Now, some of the lesser adopted technologies like remote patient monitoring and practice portals to share medical information are set to accelerate in the next 18 months. It’s a sign the sector will continue to mature digitally.’
The road ahead
In 2021, there were two crucial drivers of technology adoption among practices: Improving practice efficiencies and streamlining engagement with patients. In 2022, the stage is set for this to extend into new areas and capabilities at both the practice and practitioner levels.
‘The transition to the hybrid delivery of care, where physical and digital consultations and patient interactions are delivered seamlessly, will remain a feature of general practice,’ Mr Naffah said.
‘This, and connectivity between providers, patients and government, is set to drive the next generation of technology adoption.’
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