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Telemedicine in Specialist Outpatient Care during COVID-19: A Qualitative Study.

OBJECTIVES: To explore perceptions and experiences of telemedicine amongst patients and providers (clinicians and health administrators) who were involved in telemedicine appointments in hospital outpatient clinics in 2020-2022.

DESIGN, SETTING, PARTICIPANTS: Qualitative study; semi-structured interviews conducted with 37 participants (16 patients, 21 providers) in various hospital specialist outpatient clinics in a NSW local health district.

RESULTS: Patients were generally satisfied with telemedicine consultations, especially during COVID restrictions, due to the convenience of accessing care from home and minimising the risk of COVID exposure. However, patients considered that the inability to receive a physical examination was a significant disadvantage of telemedicine. Providers had ambivalent perceptions and expressed concerns about mis- and under-diagnoses due to the inability to conduct physical examinations. They considered telemedicine suitable for review appointments, but noted an associated increased workload and stressed the need for sustainable funding models (Medicare items). Both patients and providers recognised the need for education/training and better integration of telemedicine platforms into existing infrastructure to facilitate an optimal hybrid model of care.

CONCLUSION: Despite expressing some concerns over its limitations, patients valued telemedicine for its convenience and for meeting their needs during the pandemic. While acknowledging that patients experienced some benefits from telemedicine, clinicians expressed concerns about potential missed diagnoses, uncertain clinical outcomes and lack of administrative and technological infrastructure. The ultimate test of telemedicine will be its impact on clinical outcomes versus longstanding models of in-person care. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

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