Empowering consumers to use telehealth

A  program designed to increase the use of telehealth among those living with or caring for someone with a chronic condition has demonstrated the power of partnership in improving  access to health care and health outcomes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic WA Primary Health Alliance funded ConnectGroups to develop Stay Connected with Telehealth, a three-month program which sought to raise awareness, educate and increase the use of telehealth among Western Australians diagnosed with a chronic condition.

The partnership with the WA Support Group peak body, which helps peer assistance and consumer empowerment, came about after it was noted that services that support people living with chronic health conditions were at risk of becoming less accessible or even collapsing due to COVID-19.

During this time, uptake of GP, pathology and specialist appointments was decreasing, and WA Primary Health Alliance was concerned this was linked to fear of infection, a reluctance to overburden the health care system and a perception that patients could self-manage their medical conditions.

In line with our strategic priority to empower people and communities, the Stay Connected with Telehealth program aimed to give health consumers the confidence and capacity to request telehealth from their GP, and ultimately ensure they continued to have access to high quality medical care.

WA Primary Health Portfolio Manager, Primary Care Innovation Dianne Bianchini said the collaboration with ConnectGroups had enabled both organisations to play a leadership role in empowering people with chronic conditions to access telehealth during the pandemic and beyond.

“Taking a co-designed and co-produced approach to program delivery with ConnectGroups and their members, proved to be effective in rapidly accessing health consumers in an intentional, respectful and collaborative manner,” Ms Bianchini said.

“This program brought consumers, carers and GPs together to determine the barriers to accessing telehealth and to develop educational materials.”

To directly reach the targeted chronic condition groups’ membership, ConnectGroups deployed a strategy to engage directly with six Support Group champions.

While the program engaged with about 700 members, the wider reach leveraged from the combined membership of each of the six groups, represented more than 5000 health consumers.

ConnectGroups Chief Executive Officer Antonella Segre said the Support Group champions were instrumental in providing access to their membership and in supporting delivery of the education and promotion program.

“The Support Group champions leveraged the trust they have within their membership and their subject matter expertise to promote the program,” she said.

“This was the first time Support Group Champions had a significant voice in determining the outcomes of an external program, and the success that has been derived from their involvement shows this is a model that works and should be utilised.”

Following the education campaign, the metrics indicated consumers’ positive experience engaging with telehealth:

  • 89% felt the campaign was useful and provided sufficient information to understand telehealth.
  • 61% of respondents had had telehealth offered when booking a GP appointment
  • 95% of respondents indicated they were confident requesting a telehealth appointment
  • 59% of respondents had used telehealth via a telephone appointment
  • 100% requested that telehealth continue to be made available after September 2020.

The results of the program will now be used to educate general practice teams on the patient and carer perspective of telehealth’s benefits and obstacles and drive improvement within the general practice setting.

Ms Bianchini said this program showed the potential for consumer engagement to positively influence national policy development, improve local implementation by health practitioners and increase uptake by individuals and carers.