Ideal for the ageing
While telehealth has many diverse and expanding applications, Birchley has a particular interest in its role for Australia’s ageing population.
“Technology plays an important role in healthcare for ageing Australians whether they are living in residential care or independently at home,” she says.
Australia’s population is ageing, and most baby boomers want to remain at home as long as possible. These factors, coupled with the vastness of the Australian continent and growing pressure on public health funding, have helped underpin the contribution of telehealth services to good health and wellbeing.
“Telehealth is providing communities in rural and remote Australia with really great access to health services,” Birchley says.
“Ensuring the best outcomes for patients is at the heart of everything I do in telehealth”Colleen Birchley, Head of Telehealth, Telstra Health
Tailored to digital literacy
One issue that is always top of mind is ensuring those who stand to benefit from telehealth have sufficient computer literacy.
“The needs of each individual and how they use technology to access health and wellbeing applications will vary. What we’ve found is that it’s important for seniors to feel comfortable using technology to engage with the health system,” Birchley says.
“When it comes to clients and their proficiency with technology we see the full spectrum, from no digital experience to quite expert. The more confident people are when engaging with technology, the less hesitation. It’s important to be able to break down those barriers.”
Wherever patients are on their digital journey, Birchley says it’s important that telehealth solutions can be personalised to their level of digital literacy.
Birchley believes telehealth is “on the cusp” of becoming a mainstream component of Australia’s health system, but cautions that it’s early days yet.
“With new technology we will see new models of care in a way that changes the way providers do things and with the focus on consumer-directed care,” she says.
“In the next five to 10 years there will be a much more dramatic uptake of telehealth. There will be improvements in technology, more automation and the ability to monitor more components – that’s when we’ll see the more mainstream adoption of telehealth services.”