Telehealth is transforming healthcare, but there’s an even bigger change coming

- March 1, 2021 4 MIN READ
There are many things we take for granted, simply because they are as they have always been.

When we think about innovation, we can broadly say that industries in which consumers have strong opinions innovate faster. For you to have a strong opinion on something, you need to have a base level of understanding to support your confidence, to speak up and ask for change.

As humans, we tend to back off the demands when we feel our knowledge is inadequate. We trust the professional; we go with the flow. When the customer isn’t demanding, the urge to innovate dies down. We end up with stagnant solutions to big problems.

Matthew Green, founder of BodyGuide

When it comes to healthcare, consumers don’t have confidence they know where the problems lie. This applies to both their bodies, and the industry itself. The average punter knows very little about their bodies.

This leads to a practitioner led industry – where the voice of the patient (customer) has rarely been front and center.  Appointments are a great example of something that suits the industry, but doesn’t necessarily reflect customer wants or needs.  You’ve got an issue with your back. It’s a Tuesday night at 8pm.

Why, in a world of everything on demand, are you waiting days for an appointment, and days between appointments, for an important service?

Why are you spending $100+ on a service, not knowing how many you’ll need, or even if the appointment is really necessary?


The pain factor

In 2019, a Deloitte study found that 3.24 million Australians are living with chronic pain. This is estimated to cost Australia $73.2 billion dollars each year, including $48.3 billion in lost productivity. The prevalence of chronic pain will increase by 16.9% by 2050 to 5.23 million Australians.

When it comes to everyday aches and tension, the numbers get even bigger. A study by the Global Pain Index of 7,000 adults showed that 97% of Australians suffer from body aches, with two thirds experiencing it at least weekly.

In fact, Australia tops the list for body ache prevalence, with >two thirds of Aussie’s reporting that pain affects their work and motivation.

That’s a lot of pain, with a lot of potential treatments to help it. But despite its prevalence, few of us do anything about it. Often we turn to ‘Dr Google’, or simply try to avoid the issue. In fact, 60% of Australian’s do just that—they try to ignore their pain.

When pain persists and we’ve exhausted rest, medication, and google, we are left with the option of professional care. It’s not cheap. And it’s only when there’s an available appointment.


Telehealth : Synchronous versus asynchronous care

Telehealth is undoubtedly having its moment. COVID-19 forced us into our homes, and we adapted our lives to suit. A 2020 report from HotWire shows that 39% of consumers are happy to use health services delivered through a computerised system.

I founded one of Australia’s first telehealth-only clinics in 2015. It’s glorious to see telehealth validated for the mainstream. But when I talk to investors about telehealth opportunities, there’s always a cautious tone I take— that telehealth as we think of it, will only be big relative to the survival of appointment based, synchronous care. 

Synchronous care means you’re talking to your professional, for a set amount of time, and only while you are both free and in front of each other.  This is a really inefficient way to deliver information.

The scarcity of time makes it difficult for the professional, who has to divide the appointment between providing relief, and the work required to actually resolve the issue. Because of this tension, we have an industry of incredibly educated people spending too much time giving massages, rather than teaching. It’s not the fault of therapists, it’s an issue with the structure of appointments: a structure based on business imperatives..

Structuring costs around appointments, buffers the cost for the customer. They don’t see the investment for their neck as being $800 and 8 weeks. The first opt in was just a once off appointment, with the hope that was all that was required.
The customer, with few trusted alternatives, is forced to go with the flow.


Asynchronous Care
As a solution, we are witnessing the rise of asynchronous care. Asynchronous means you can speak to a professional, via correspondence. Think, texting with your psychologist.

The professional becomes a readily available resource for multiple patients at once, while the patient is empowered with lower cost, on demand support. To my mind, this is closer to a health care revolution but it still requires a health professional on one end of the line.

Automated care
Automated care means you can find a trusted plan of action through technology that can collect your information accurately, and automatically assign an intervention. .

For BodyGuide, which focuses on aches, pain and tension, this required mapping the decision pathways that professionals use, creating algorithms that build customised, area specific programs.

Click on the area you’re having trouble with, answer some questions, and in two minutes receive a tailored program. Education, exercise and self massage video tutorials provide daily support, while  automatic check-ins monitor progress. If symptoms fail to resolve, BodyGuide creates a call to action, encouraging the customer to seek medical advice   

As automated care becomes more sophisticated (and effective) it’s a win/win.  The customer benefits, as does society: with less cost to employers, insurers and government.

Fast forward a few years and we’ll see a large proportion of appointments shift from synchronous, to asynchronous telehealth. In the background, automated care will scale effortlessly, empowering people to look after their own bodies, solving complaints before they become appointments.

Products like BodyGuide, which already have risk identification algorithms, will integrate with traditional services, fast tracking at risk customers to professional care through in-app bookings.

All of this makes for a complete health ecosystem that does not replace health professionals, but lets digital tools do the heavy lifting as a first point of call. Self service, self care options creating massive disruption to traditional models.  

Last century was built on practitioner-led health care. The future is patient-led.