Digital health company 1st Group (ASX: 1ST) has finalised and launched its previously announced plan to create a telehealth service in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement to the market this morning, 1st Group said it has launched an “integrated, clinically validated telehealth solution” in response to customer requests and new government guidelines set out by the Australian government.
The launched Telehealthclinics.com.au directory, which the company has likened to the “Airbnb of health”, will be available to all 1st Group customers with over 11,000 sites already available.
The news follows on from last month’s development that 1st Group had set up a COVID-19 healthcare services directory – a single national directory listing all COVID-19 clinics and other MyHealth1st healthcare services operating during this, while offering sophisticated online COVID-19 patient risk screening services.
Health is wealth
From a commercial perspective, 1st Group said it plans to charge standard usage fees of $5 per consult, but has opted to waive setup fees to support rapid adoption by its customers during the COVID-19 crisis.
Telehealth consultations have been prioritised by Australian authorities in a bid to improve diagnoses without compromising safe distancing rules and quarantine measures rolled out across Australia and the world over the past two months.
“Services via telehealth are safe, effective and convenient and will limit unnecessary exposure of patients and health professionals to COVID-19, whenever treatment can be delivered by phone or videoconferencing,” 1st Group said.
As a means of improving the level of care for patients, the Australian government extended the scope of telehealth consults supported by the country’s domestic healthcare system Medicare.
Eligible services now include all general practitioner (GP) services and a range of consultations including access to specialists, mental health screening, aged care, chronic disease management and after-hours consultations.
“Our platform already supports our customers taking telehealth appointments with their current system (such as Skype) but many of these systems are not regarded as secure and are not customised for health consultations,” 1st Group managing director and co-founder Klaus Bartosch said.
Mr Bartosch said 1st Group’s telehealth service will allow its customers to use an end-to-end encrypted service that will come “fully integrated” with existing platforms and customers’ practice management systems, thereby simplifying the experience for its customers and their patients.
According to 1st Group, its new telehealth product will offer a range of “rich attractive features” including a directory service that provides a single website destination for consumers to find a broad range of healthcare practitioners, offering not only GPs but also telehealth consults.
The aim is to schedule telehealth appointments seamlessly and efficiently for existing users and then to conduct consultations via a platform that utilises the patient and practitioner’s current device including simple web browser interfacing, to avoid the need for special apps or software downloads, the company said.
One of the key new features is the ability for up to four people to be present in a single telehealth consultation, thereby allowing multiple professionals – potentially from different specialisations – to conduct a team meeting to decide upon the best level of care for the patient.
1st Group said its service will provide an assortment of useful tools such as virtual whiteboards for illustrations, document sharing capabilities to enhance transparency and secure systems to facilitate e-prescriptions.
The telehealth solution will supply Medicare details to the practitioner for payment processing in the first phase release, which will be extended to offer fully integrated payment processing “shortly” with additional features to be “released in phases over the coming weeks”, the company said.