Aussies risking health by relying on virtual medical advice, study claims

More Aussies are turning to the internet for medical advice because it's more convenient, but a new report shows that without the healthcare sector implementing relevant online technology, people could actually be putting their health at risk. Source: Getty

With technology evolving at a rapid rate, more Australians are using the internet to book holidays, pay for groceries and even manage their finances. And now a new report has revealed an increasing number of Australians are also turning to the internet for medical advice.

However, the How do you care for today while building the health of tomorrow? report by EY shows that an absence of accessible healthcare technology means people could actually be putting their health at risk by seeking medical advice online themselves.

Australians are calling for the healthcare sector to implement more technology that will allow them to visit their doctor virtually and monitor their conditions remotely, something they believe will help older people and the medically impaired gain more cost-effective and on-demand access to healthcare.

Despite these calls, the report shows medical professionals have been slow to adopt technologies that could improve access to medical care for patients. The findings reveal that 49 per cent of consumers engage with a doctor virtually to save time and money, but just 20 per cent of doctors use tools to support virtual visits and patient engagement tools.

Instead, the bulk of technologies being implemented by doctors focus on reducing their own administrative burden, diagnostic support and to communicate easier with other health professionals. These tools don’t improve access for consumers or better help them manage their health.

“Digital healthcare and the efficiencies it can create must be a priority to ensure all Australians are able to access the healthcare they need,” EY Oceania Health Leader Jenny Parker said in a statement. “The structure of our current payment system is a major roadblock in the uptake of digital technologies. Medicare rebates need to extend to all virtual visits, not just people in remote areas.”

Read more: How buying medication online can hurt your health and wallet

More Australians are instead researching their symptoms online because it’s more convenient, but this could be at the detriment of their health, the report found. In fact, 55 per cent of Australians research illnesses, injuries and health problems online and 38 per cent use the internet to source information on what medical condition they might have.

Meanwhile, the report found the majority of people would be happy to share information such as dietary and nutrition intake, lifestyle choices such as smoking and drug use and exercise patterns if it meant receiving better healthcare.

“This data shows that people would proactively manage their well-being in conjunction with their doctors if the digital tools were in place to facilitate this,” Parker said. “Consumers want digital healthcare options. But doctors are not yet equipped to meet this demand and the system doesn’t encourage them to introduce consumer focused tools.”

The report shows 36 per cent of Australians would opt to be treated via on-demand e-visits for colds, flus, rashes and other acute conditions online instead of in person, while 51 per cent of doctors say video consults would produce better and more efficient patient outcomes.

Read more: The most common reasons Aussies visit the doctor revealed in new report

Two in five doctors also believe managing patients virtually would increase productivity but 76 per cent don’t have plans to introduce technologies to enable virtual visits.

“The findings of our research show that patients now view themselves as consumers and they expect healthcare to deliver what they have in other areas of their lives — connectivity, mobility, agility, immediacy,” Parker concluded.

Would you prefer to visit a doctor virtually, or is it better to see a medical professional in person?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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