Telehealth utilisation in residential aged care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic: a retrospective cohort study in Australian general practice

Zhaoli Dai*, Gorkem Sezgin, Julie Li, Guilherme S. Franco, Precious McGuire, Shirmilla Datta, Christopher Pearce, Adam McLeod, Andrew Georgiou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction
Our earlier analysis during the COVID-19 surges in 2020 showed a reduction in general practitioner (GP) in-person visits to residential aged care facilities (RACFs) and increased use of telehealth. This study assessed how sociodemographic characteristics affected telehealth utilisation.

Methods
This retrospective cohort consists of 27,980 RACF residents aged 65 years and over, identified from general practice electronic health records in Victoria and New South Wales during March 2020-August 2021. Residents’ demographic characteristics, including age, sex, region, and pension status, were analysed to estimate the odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (CI) for the associations with telehealth utilisation (telephone/video vs. in-person consultations) and with video versus telephone consultations, in mixed-effects multiple level regression models.

Results
Of 32,330 median monthly GP consultations among 21,987 residents identified in 2020, telehealth visits accounted for 17% of GP consultations, of which 93% were telephone consults. In 2021, of 32,229 median monthly GP consultations among 22,712 residents, telehealth visits accounted for 11% of GP consultations (97% by telephone). Pension holders (OR: 1.14; 95% CI: 1.10, 1.17) and those residing in rural areas (OR: 1.72; 95% CI: 1.57, 1.90) were more likely to use telehealth. However, residents in rural areas were less likely to use video than telephone in GP consultations (OR: 0.41; 95% CI: 0.29, 0.57). Results were similar in separate analyses for each COVID surge.

Discussion
Telephone was primarily used in telehealth consultations among pension holders and rural residents in RACFs. Along with the limited use of video in virtual care in rural RACFs, the digital divide may imply potential healthcare disparities in socially disadvantaged patients.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Telemedicine and Telecare
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 May 2022

Keywords

  • Telehealth
  • residential aged care facilities
  • nursing homes
  • Primary care
  • COVID-19 pandemic

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