Research project reveals positive attitudes towards telehealth, but it’s no magic bullet

December 2021

Moving to the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system) may bring about some normality within society but there’s no guarantee how long it will last. The good news for health professionals and patients is that health care delivery by telehealth can be as simple as a click of a button. The downside is that many people, many of whom live rurally, have different needs than their urban counterparts; rural communities are not created equal and their high health needs are not being considered in the development of telehealth systems as highlighted by a recent telehealth research project Rural Smart Health. 
Telehealth has existed for decades, but it only became more firmly embedded into the provision of healthcare during the first COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand back in March 2020, when the use of digital technologies was encouraged for remote consultation using phone, video, email, text, patient portals etc, making it possible for clinicians to reach their patients all the while keeping themselves, their patients and others safe from COVID-19. Fast forward to today and the adoption of telehealth, for various reasons, has waned.  
The Rural Smart Health (RSH) project was a collaboration between Massey University, NZ Telehealth Leadership Group and Forum, Vensa Health and other commercial partners, and explored telehealth requirements for older adults living rurally in underserved populations. Although the project focussed on a specific population group, the intention is to expose findings which will inform the general population.
The project consisted of focus groups with older adults living in rural and semi-rural areas, where participants were divided into two groups (those who ‘had used’ and those who ‘had not used’ telehealth) and took part in semi-structured discussions and/or interviews. Results revealed that not only are rural communities’ needs not being met, but that for telehealth adoption to work, the rural communities themselves need to be involved in the design and implementation of telehealth solutions from the very beginning. The message ‘do it once, do it right’ has never been clearer – and would pave the way for successful telehealth implementation to provide access to health services for whom the inequity gap is only growing. 

Read the short summary report