This is part four in Which-50’s COVID-19 Disruption Series, which examines how Australia’s digital infrastructure is coping with the society-wide disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Read part one, part two and part three

As a number of Australians are ordered to stay home the health sector is transforming the way it takes care of patients from delivery services to Zoom GP appointments as their normal routines are thrown into disarray. 

Already analysts are seeing a significant increase in the uptake of telehealth since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

According to Sharon Hakkennes, senior director analyst – healthcare at Gartner healthcare providers already using telehealth solutions have scaled these solutions to expand their scope of delivery. 

She said those providers not using telehealth have rapidly deployed technology to enable the delivery of telehealth services.

Hakkennes said, “In response to COVID-19, globally we have seen governments and insurers changing funding models and easing restrictions on eligibility criteria for telehealth services.”

Healthcare providers are now starting to consider their long term strategy in relation to telehealth 

“Particularly in relation to which services will continue post COVID-19, what additional opportunities exist and what are the underlying technology and support requirements necessary to sustain these services over time,” she explains. 

Analysts predict the telehealth sector will expand. Research from Frost and Sullivan forecasts there will be a 64 per cent growth of the telehealth market. 

Sharon Hakkenness senior director analyst – healthcare at Gartner. Source: LinkedIn.

The research noted the pandemic is set to reshape the healthcare industry with cutting-edge technologies in virtual care such as internet of medical things (IoMT), teleradiology, telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and virtual visits. 

The virtual care market is projected to reach a 100 per cent increase in usage and adoption for the rest of this year. 

Reenita Das, transformational health SVP and partner, Frost & Sullivan said it took COVID-19 to reaffirm and reassess the value of telemedicine and its boon to the healthcare system globally. 

“Today, telemedicine has become the standard of care, driving a rise in service providers and in the need for service standardisation across the continuum of care. While we recognise the tragedy that COVID-19 has caused the world, we also realise that it has opened many opportunities for companies to rejuvenate in this ‘new normal ecosystem’.” 

Businesses from birth consult clinics, physios and telehealth providers have all been disrupted by COVID-19 in some shape or form. 

Which-50 interviewed a number of these health practitioners to see how their business has changed and how they’ve adjusted to the pandemic. 

Prepared to Birth

While pregnant women are not at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, many of them are now forced to attend appointments alone or online to reduce risks causing additional anxiety for those mothers to be. 

Natalie Andrew is the owner of childbirth education centre Prepared to Birth, where she teaches women about childbirth and hypnobirthing.

She made the decision to move her classes online to a 12-hour course run over two days via Zoom sessions. 

With online courses it’s easier to explain the different stages of labour and hormones but harder to show active birthing techniques, massage acupressure points and meditation through a Zoom call, Andrew said. 

Natalie Andrew, owner of Prepared to Birth. Supplied.

While it is easier to deliver the information, Andrew said it is harder to establish a relationship between herself and the couples taking her course through a screen.

To counteract the missing connection she has been offering additional one on one meetings before group classes to get to know them.

The feedback she’s received has been positive as these women are grateful they can still attend classes and get the education they need before giving birth. 

“There’s just been a lot of uncertainty for them. A lot of [my clients] have been so grateful that my classes are still running and that they can still get the education that they need before they give birth,” Andrew said. 

Andrew has also hosted free sessions where other mothers shared positive birth stories to help pregnant women during this time. She is also running free sessions with acupuncturists, doulas, and physios as well.

Once social distancing is no longer an enforced rule she will continue with the online classes as it has given her an opening for international clients in New Zealand and Canada, something an in-person appointment couldn’t do. 

Generation Physio

While the pandemic has increased the need for delivery services Generation Physio & Allied Health was already one step ahead. 

The Queensland-based clinic offers at-home care for those clients who struggle moving or getting to a physiotherapists’ office. 

Gauder, CEO of Generation Physio & Allied Health. Supplied.

Established in 2014, Generation Physio’s model cuts out the cost of the physical location and puts that into the technology and infrastructure to have a team split across the state. 

The physios are then able to visit more clients and offer support to those who are unable to make it into the clinic. 

Jordan Gauder, CEO of Generation Physio & Allied Health hasn’t seen a big change during this period and it’s essentially business as usual.

“It has always been this way and using a smart mix of technology and being prepared allowed us to be well positioned during the current crisis,” he said. 

However Gauder is expediting the business’s interstate expansion due to the greater need of in-home service and is hoping to take the business national by the end of this year.

He said, “This unprecedented time has helped highlight to us an even greater need for the in-home service we are currently providing.”

The physios have access to a number of technology tools and platforms including Dropbox, Slack and Asana according to Gauder. 

What they changed during this period is they have tightened up on their health and safety policies to protect both our clients and our health professionals. 

The biggest challenge for them right now is communicating to their clients that there has been no impact to their business operationally. 

He said, “To overcome this, we had to ensure our communication with our Generation Physio community both internally and externally was paramount during the initial few weeks of the restrictions on trading.”

This pandemic has been a learning curve for both their health professionals and support team, Gauder said. 

“It has helped us to strengthen our current processes and procedures with our technology partners like Dropbox to ensure we are best positioned to look after our clients now and long into the future.”

MedAdvisor

MedAdvisor is a medication management software company used by 60 per cent of Australia’s pharmacies such as Terry White and Amcal.

Patients use the MedAdvisor app to book remote medical consultation, pharmacy engagement and as of April 21 they can get their medication delivered. 

This “Uber style” pharmacy delivery allows patients to order, pay and request delivery of their medication all from the MedAdvisor app from participating pharmacies. 

Robert Read, CEO at MedAdvisor. Source: Website.

This new feature has been fast-tracked to help reduce panic buying, relieve pressure on pharmacists, protect patients from unnecessary exposure, and provide access to critical medications, according to Robert Read, CEO at MedAdvisor. 

Read said before the rollout of this new delivery feature, pharmacists are processing double and in some cases triple the number of scripts. 

This rollout is a part of the federal government’s COVID-19 package where it has pledged $25 million to deliver medications to those at risk in the community. 

MedAdvisor does have its own network of on-demand GPs who work on the platform to help with things like script renewals and are available when patients cannot access their own GP over the platform, Read said. 

Read raised strong concerns about the safety of the pharmacists processing the scripts. He said these pharmacists are working in an environment with little protection from the mental and physical effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

He explained, “Pharmacy shelves have been stripped of supplies, pharmacists have copped physical and verbal abuse from scared patients, have largely been left without appropriate PPE and all while facing extended trading hours as they remain one of the few places Australians can still go to while in lockdown.”

He said pharmacists are the critical connection between clinical care, medication and community engagement. 

MedAdvisor is contending with one of its busiest times while having all its staff working remotely, Read explained. 

As a tech company, the brand was already largely set up to handle its staff working remotely and in the cloud through devices. Read said they have stringent security protocols in place, including multi-factor authentication.

Direct Health Solutions

Direct Health Solutions, a telehealth service provider for employers in Australia and New Zealand has been tracking and predicting the COVID-19 spread since February giving them enough time to prepare for the lockdowns and chaos that ensued the following month. 

Paul Dundon, CEO and Founder, Direct Health Solutions said the company has a team of tele-triage nurses and doctors working around the clock, providing advice on COVID-19. 

He said, “We also have been helping organisations to track and manage absenteeism and workplace injuries, and we are providing tele-physio consultations in particular for injury management and pre-employment screening.”

Paul Dundon, CEO at Direct Health Solutions. Supplied.

The company recently launched a COVID-19 hotline service providing employers with immediate access to advice if other providers are over capacity or even under quarantine.

Anxious or sick employees have an avenue to the most current support, including telespych services, and can receive reassurance and help when they need it.

Dundon said between mid-March and the beginning of April 80 per cent of callers said they were unclear of the COVID-19 guidelines, 65 per cent of callers indicated they were anxious and 25 per cent of the callers were told to isolate or be eligible for testing. 

The pandemic placed pressure on their call centres with volumes increasing in mid-March from 1500 a day to 4000 a day for two weeks.

They also planned to implement Microsoft Azure in early March to keep up with the digital demand.

“Now our team can work anywhere. Our systems are mostly web-based, right through to our phone systems, databases and Office 365 tenancy,” Dundon explained. 

Direct Health Solutions has more than 40 of its staff working from home. 

To keep up with the pressure they had to equip themselves with more laptops and deliver them to employees working from home. 

This is part four in Which-50’s COVID-19 Disruption Series, which examines how Australia’s digital infrastructure is coping with the society-wide disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Read part one, part two and part three

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