The fast adoption has allowed patients to access consultations safely, conveniently and efficiently during the pandemic, with many seeking to avoid in-person visits to their GP in a bid to limit the risk of contracting COVID-19.

The 2020 CommBank GP Insights Report, created in partnership with medical education provider HealthCert, found 27 per cent of Australians have actively avoided booking in-person appointments with their doctor, which has caused telehealth consultations to skyrocket.

According to the report, older Australians (baby boomers and pre-boomers) were more likely to visit their GP in person. Almost 50 per cent of Gen Z said they had actively avoided going to the doctors since the start of the pandemic because of their COVID-19 fears, while just 19 per cent of baby boomers and 14 per cent of pre-boomers admitted to shunning their local GP clinics.

Across the country, 73 per cent of Australians said they have either accessed telehealth or are open to virtual consultations. Before the pandemic, just 3 per cent of patients had participated in a telehealth consultation.

Belinda Hegarty, National Head of Healthcare at Commonwealth Bank, said: “COVID-19 has brought forward the adoption of virtual care, and patients have responded very positively overall. This has been particularly important for continuity of care for patients with chronic conditions, and for the increasing number of Australians seeking mental health support during the pandemic.

“While telehealth can’t replace in-practice consultations altogether, particularly when patients present with certain conditions, general practices have done a tremendous job to rapidly introduce much needed options for virtual care.

“Many businesses have needed to adapt to the challenges being faced in this pandemic and GPs are no exception. Practitioners have been innovative, embracing change and new opportunities amid this unique environment.”

SmartClinics, a Queensland-based business with 25 clinics and almost 200 doctors, understood the importance of technology from the outset, with clear guidance around coronavirus on their website being updated regularly.

Ben Howat, Chief Operating Officer at SmartClinics, says telehealth has been invaluable to the continuation of the business.

“Almost overnight, we had to ensure all our doctors could still practice in a worst-case scenario, so telehealth was something we had to invest in,” Mr Howat said.   

Although they already provided telehealth services to 5 per cent of clients, SmartClinics worked to quickly and efficiently scale it up as demand rose to 30 per cent within two months.

The GP Insights Report revealed 76 per cent of practices had suffered a drop in revenue since the start of the pandemic. To help combat this issue, 80 per cent of practices say they will increase their investment in technology, and 43 per cent of practices plan to introduce new services, over the next two years.

Mr Howat believes patients valued the convenience and accessibility of telehealth and sees benefit in keeping it implemented moving forward. As a business, he says they are regularly considering adding new services as there is a recognisable need in the community.

“We now look strategically at the socio-economic and demographics levels where the community might be supported by an injection of that service.”

In line with patient preferences, one in four practices are seeking to introduce aesthetic and cosmetic medicine and look to better market their existing services.

“We are seeing GPs offer a range of services to help meet patient demand and develop new revenue streams. One area that is gaining importance is mental health services, with primary care providers well placed to address a growing patient need for support,” Ms Hegarty said.

About the CommBank GP Insights Report

The 2020 CommBank GP Insights Report is based on a quantitative survey of 201 key decision-makers or influencers at general practices across Australia, as well as 1,032 patients who had visited a general practice in the six months prior to June 2020. The general practice survey was completed by a mix of business owners, general practitioners (GPs), practice managers and nurse practitioners. ACA Research conducted both the general practice and patient surveys online during June and July 2020 on behalf of the CommBank Healthcare team. The surveys were designed to track key metrics, perspectives on COVID-19, patient preferences and practice priorities.

The patient sample comprises a broad cross-section of survey participants by location, age and gender. Around half reported an ongoing or chronic medical condition. Pre-Boomers (over 72 years) represented 16 per cent of the sample, Baby Boomers (54 to 72 year) were 30 per cent of the sample, Gen X (38 to 53 years) are 26 per cent of the sample, generations Z/Y (18 to 37 years), accounted for the remaining 28 per cent. 63 per cent lived in capital cities, and 37 per cent resided in other regions.