Telehealth and telecare are particularly important and beneficial to long-term care facilities due to care demands, workforce, and the unique environment. Stemming from the recent findings on telehealth utilisation in residential aged-care facilities in Australia, this commentary seeks to identify lessons and perspectives learned during the Covid-19 pandemic from multiple users, including patients, physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers in long-term care (LTC) settings.
From patients’ perspectives, older adults residing in LTC settings often opt not to use virtual care, with the majority preferring in-person visits. This is despite residents expressing their willingness to use telehealth, and virtual care has advantages in LTC settings or in remote areas. Additionally, hearing, vision, or cognitive impairment can limit residents’ ability to use information technology to access care, so their preferences for phone or video consultations depend on the health conditions or care requirement. From physicians’ perspectives, most healthcare practitioners have a positive attitude toward using telehealth. However, telephone consultations tended to be the dominant mode during the early period of the Covid-19 pandemic. Physicians also raised several major concerns, including technical and equipment-related issues, expanded roles, or additional workloads of LTC staff that could negatively affect clinical decision-making and unequal access in rural, older, and cognitively impaired patients. Most nurses and healthcare workers perceived telehealth positively as a way to enhance patients’ care access. However, the majority had concerns about acquiring appropriate knowledge of using the technology for themselves and their patients. In remote areas, nurses expressed higher efficiency and higher care quality when utilising telehealth in caring for older patients than in the regular in-person care mode.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, telehealth has continued as an alternative platform in clinical services. However, as a healthcare platform that offers flexibilities of time, location, and improved efficiency, changing the traditional mindset is essential to shift the paradigm to use telehealth when appropriate. Importantly, telehealth needs substantial support in rural or remote long-term care facilities. Doing so will contribute to the reduction of healthcare inequity in long-term care facilities in remote settings and those with social disparities.