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Why virtual healthcare is the solution to the growing GP crisis in Australia

Fitness & Health:

Our healthcare crisis was happening long before the pandemic. The arrival of Covid-19 only served to exacerbate, compound and highlight the broken system, especially for front line workers.

While Australia on face value has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, general practice has been in trouble for a while, at the very least battling with an abysmal system of remuneration and funding that serves neither practitioners nor patients well for the progressive landscape of care and treatment. In response, the difficulty of running a healthcare business and its associated costs is leading to increased corporatisation – gone are the days of the “jellybean” GP.

Corporatisation may go some way to fixing the operational issues of practice management, but it can’t offer solutions to the ongoing decrease of GP numbers. Over the past 10 years, more graduates are choosing other specialty fields, with only about 15% of graduates going on to general practice. Pandemic border closures during the past few years have also contributed to dwindling GP numbers, causing interruption in the regular supply of interstate and international practitioners. In our rural areas, the situation is significantly worse.

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Overall, the specialty is no longer attractive; longer hours, relentless workloads, more patients, less time, and the increased administrative burden is all leading to GP burnout and a diminished capacity to provide care. Fundamentally, for many, there’s no joy in it anymore, so it’s no surprise that for every GP graduate there are at least 10 specialty graduates. 

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While the traditional brick and mortar model of healthcare has slowly been unravelling, the health tech industry has been growing. Virtual healthcare offers an opportunity to address many of the issues the current model of care is experiencing. Increased awareness, and education in telehealth services could be the silver lining for the whole crisis.

The digital-first approach enables access to multidisciplinary and team-based care, offering opportunities for professionals without having to be in the same locations, so it has real virtue for our remote and rural population.

Virtual healthcare services afford a more streamlined approach to patient care, by offering greater access for patients, and more touchpoints. Systems of multidisciplinary and preventive care, previously unavailable for general practice, are also more easily enabled. An essential piece of the puzzle is funding. The Medicare legislation for telehealth has fluctuated throughout the pandemic and there needs to be ongoing progressive leadership and models that encourage digital health while protecting the GP profession and medical paradigm as a whole.

Perhaps one of the most critical benefits for virtual healthcare models is that they afford the variety and flexibility that the private sector has had, meaning our GPs can choose where and when they work. Tech innovations can empower our medical staff and doctors, and reduce burnout to regain a better life balance. The next step is to ensure that nursing, practice management and medical support services are also properly integrated into telehealth models to evolve them into proper practices.

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Innovation in the virtual healthcare space offers so many benefits and answers in response to the fractured system, and the welfare of our healthcare professionals. It goes without saying that implementation of new systems will attract young medical professionals, to entice new talent back to this critical component of the healthcare system. It also offers a better user and operator experience, so our current professionals can regain some enjoyment and passion for their work and careers, and strike a balance between face to face and digital care.

Dr Patrick Aouad is co-founder and CEO of [cu]health. He is a practising neurologist, healthcare innovator and has 20 years of medical experience

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