RECORD numbers of regional Australians have explored digital options for health services, exercise support, skills training and entertainment since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.
According to the NBN Behavioural Change Survey, which investigated internet usage habits before and during social distancing, 46 per cent of regional Australians needing a health consultation in the past two months have done so via telehealth services.
Up to 64pc of respondents said they would be open to using telehealth services in future.
NBN Co chief development officer Gavin Williams said online activity had significantly increased during COVID-19, with Australians relying on digital platforms to access health services, for education, to connect with friends and family, and stay entertained.
"Our research shows that people have significantly increased their use of online services and that many expect new online habits to stick as life returns to normal," he said.
"One of the activities that is being heavily supported by access to fast and reliable broadband is telehealth. The waiting room is no longer an essential stop on the path to see a GP and Australians of all ages are accessing telehealth services - a trend that is likely to continue once restrictions have lifted.
"Accessing telehealth services saves both money and time as patients no longer need to jump in the car and drive to a consultation. This is particularly important for many regional and rural Australians who may need to travel long distances to see a specialist."
Allied health telepractice Therapy Connect co-founder Simone Dudley said telehealth had been a vital element of healthcare for rural and regional Australians for many years.
"I've run a telehealth practice for six years, providing thousands of hours of speech and occupational therapy, psychology and physiotherapy support to children and families living all over Australia via the NBN," she said.
"The reality is many of our clients wouldn't have access to various forms of therapy and other healthcare practices without telehealth services."
"Over recent months I have noticed the confidence in telehealth services from clients growing, as they realise they can still receive the highest quality treatment. I anticipate people will continue to use telehealth services, particularly as more practitioners begin to offer the service."
To assist the health sector and support these lifestyle changes, NBN recently announced a COVID-19 connectivity relief package, including offers of higher speeds for telehealth providers to help ensure they have the capability to manage anticipated increase in telehealth activity during this period.
As an essential service, they are also eligible to receive, via their internet provider, enhanced service levels, prioritised connections and fault resolution and business-grade services at no additional charge.
Online platforms are also helping regional Australians working from home to beat social isolation, with 56pc connecting with family through video calls and 27pc making social video calls with colleagues.
About 24pc of regional Australians have kept fit with the support of online exercise classes.
The survey found increased demand for key online activities that could help predict permanent behaviour changes that endure once social distancing restrictions are eased.
When compared to their metro counterparts, however, regional Australians still seemed to prefer in-person interactions.
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