Use of telehealth
The introduction of telehealth health checks may have prevented a more dramatic reduction in health check numbers. Australia-wide, 7.3% of the health checks in 2020 and 2.9% of the health checks in 2021 were delivered through telehealth, but the proportions were much higher in some parts of the country. In 2020, telehealth was used for nearly 1 in 5 health checks in Greater Hobart and Greater Melbourne (19% and 18%, respectively), which had the highest proportions.
In 2021, the proportion of health checks delivered through telehealth more than halved compared with 2020, with Greater Adelaide having the highest proportion at 9.0% of health checks. The use of telehealth health checks was proportionally lowest in Western Australia, with Greater Perth and the Rest of Western Australia among the 3 areas with the lowest proportion of telehealth use in Australia both in 2020 and 2021 (Figure 6).
Figure 6: Number or percentage of Indigenous-specific health checks delivered via telehealth, by year and geography, 2020 to 2021
An interactive column graph showing the number and percentage of Indigenous-specific health checks conducted via telehealth, by location, in 2020 and 2021. Refer to table 'CV06' in data tables.
After the introduction of the telehealth MBS items in late March 2020, the use of telehealth health checks peaked in April and May of 2020, followed by a downward trend until the end of 2021, with a few exceptions. Most notably, there was a spike in telehealth use during the second COVID‑19 wave in Victoria (July to October 2020) (Figure 7).
Figure 7: Number or percentage of Indigenous health checks delivered via telehealth, by month and location, 2020 to 2021
An interactive line graph showing the number and percentage of Indigenous-specific health checks conducted via telehealth, by month, in 2020 and 2021. Location can be selected from a dropdown menu. Refer to table 'CV07' in data tables.
Out of the 2 modes of telehealth delivery, telephone items were much more commonly used than video-conference items between March 2020 and June 2021 – accounting for 92% of all telehealth health checks conducted during that period (Figure 8). However, the telephone delivery option was removed from July 2021, around the same time that the extended Delta outbreaks began in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. With only video-conference available for telehealth delivery, the resulting use of telehealth items appeared to be somewhat dampened compared to earlier outbreaks (Figure 8). This suggests that video-conferencing may be less accessible than telephone options among those seeking health checks, which would align with research on the barriers to online activities that some groups of Australians particularly experience (Indigenous Australians; socioeconomically disadvantaged people; older people; people with disabilities; people living in rural and remote areas) (Hall Dykgraaf et al. 2022, Thomas et al. 2020).
Figure 8: Number of Indigenous-specific health checks in Australia delivered via telehealth, by mode of delivery and month, 2020 and 2021
An interactive line graph showing the number of Indigenous-specific health checks conducted via video-conference and by telephone, by month, in 2020 and 2021. Refer to table 'CV08' in data tables.
Hall Dykgraaf S, Desborough J, Sturgiss E, Parkinson A, Dut GM, Kidd M (2022) ‘Older people, the digital divide and use of telehealth during the COVID‑19 pandemic’, Australian Journal of General Practice, 51(9):721–724.
Thomas J, Barraket J, Wilson CK, Holcombe-James I, Kennedy J, Rennie E, Ewing S, MacDonald T (2020) Measuring Australia’s digital divide: the Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2020, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.