Nevertheless, there have been significant changes in the use of healthcare from the suspension of non-urgent elective surgery, social distancing restrictions that have discouraged people from leaving home, public fear of contracting or spreading the virus in health facilities, and increased household financial pressure reducing the affordability of out-of-pocket payments.
"The changing mix of face-to-face and telehealth consultations is significant, with 36 per cent of all consultation items provided by telehealth, compared to 1.3 per cent before the pandemic.”
In the latest ANZ-Melbourne Institute Health Sector report, general practitioners (GPs) reported evidence of significant variation in workload as a result of the pandemic. The increase in the number of newly funded Medicare telehealth consultations in April 2020 was accompanied by a reduction in the number of face-to-face consultations, with an overall increase in the total volume of services provided.
For non-GP specialists, new telehealth items and increases in the use of pre-existing telehealth items only partly substituted for a fall in face-to-face consultations, with an overall decrease in the volume of consultations provided.
These changes in workload and working patterns are substantial and uncertainty remains as to the permanence of the rapid shift to telehealth and how fast a potential recovery will take place.
Use of telehealth is high, with almost all GPs reporting use of telehealth compared with 76 per cent of non-GP specialists. Use of telehealth was lower among solo GPs and those in the most disadvantaged or rural areas. There were no differences by GP age or practice size.