The delivery of medical care has experienced a major shift during the pandemic, with a peak of more than 50 per cent of patients consulting a doctor via telehealth, the 2021 CommBank GP Insights Report has found.

53 per cent of GPs said they had invested more in technology than they initially budgeted in order to meet the rising demand for digital interactions. This was primarily used to improve efficiencies and enhance communications between GPs and patients, such as digital appointment reminders and check-in services.

The widespread adoption of telehealth has been a monumental task for GPs to manage. Just four per cent of consultations were conducted via telehealth pre-pandemic, rising to 51 per cent in 2020, and settling back at 23 per cent just prior to the latest lockdowns.

To date, almost six in 10 patients have conducted a telehealth appointment, and 88 per cent of these patients have indicated they are satisfied with their telehealth experience.

With technology enhancements helping deliver virtual consultations, patient numbers have rebounded following a dip amid the first lockdown in 2020. Almost one in two (49 per cent) patients said they now intend to visit a GP at least once every two months, up from 39 per cent in 2020.

Although these technological advancements have helped some patients to once again feel comfortable about meeting with their doctor, they have come at a cost. Almost 50 per cent of practices indicated their operating expenses have risen in the last 12 months. One third (35 per cent) of practices suggested the telehealth consultations have negatively impacted their profits, while 28 per cent said the vaccination rollout was putting downward pressure on their revenue.

Albert Naffah, CEO of CommBank Health, said GPs continue to play a crucial role in the pandemic, and Australians have noticed.

“Almost all Australians agree GPs have adapted well to the conditions making it easier for patients to overcome the anxiety we saw in 2020 and return to their preferred practice. However, for many practices, income associated with more patient visits need to be weighed against rising costs, including greater access to technology, as well as the impact of vaccinations and telehealth.”

Co-founder of Scale My Clinic, (providing business training for GP clinic owners), Dr Todd Cameron, added: “Technology is essential to practices’ growth aspirations. You can now have a work from anywhere GP. That dramatically changes the systems you would set up for a GP. Additionally, patients’ telehealth experience during the pandemic has altered their expectations.”

The research also revealed that the GP is the destination of choice for the majority of patients seeking the coronavirus vaccine (56 per cent), with almost three in four GPs already administering vaccines, and a further 12 per cent planning to do so.

“Among the myriad of challenges that GPs have faced during the pandemic is the rapid rollout of telehealth consultations and the national vaccination campaign, with patients applauding GPs for their efforts in both areas. Although challenges remain, many GPs are optimistic about the future,” Mr Naffah said.

About the CommBank GP Insights Report

The 2021 CommBank GP Insights Report is based on a quantitative survey of 223 decision-makers and influencers at general practices across Australia and 1,021 patients who had consulted a general practice within three months prior to completing the survey. The general practice survey was completed by a mix of practising physicians, business owners and senior decision-makers, with 68% of the practices in capital cities and the remainder in other regions. ACA Research conducted the general practice and patient surveys online on behalf of the CommBank Healthcare team. The survey of general practices was conducted between 26 May and 13 June, while the patient survey was undertaken between 28 May and 6 June. The surveys were designed to track key metrics and to capture perspectives on topical issues 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 (76 years plus) represented 12% of the sample, Baby Boomers (57-75 years) are 34% of the sample, Gen X (41-56 years) are 25% of the sample, Gens Z/Y (18 to 40 years) accounted for the remaining 29%. For the patient sample, 65% lived in capital cities, and 35% resided in other regions.