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Stockhead: Maintain the Telehealth momentum

Here’s what the telehealth industry wants from ScoMo to maintain momentum

ASX telehealth stocks have had a solid six months, gaining 25 per cent, but there are warnings more has to be done to maintain the run.

The breakout of COVID-19 resulted in wide-spread adoption of telehealth as medical professionals were forced online to minimise the risk of interacting with infected patients. Additionally, patients were also concerned about the risk of infection.

Nearly a dozen ASX stocks that were already in the sector or pivoted into the sector were beneficiaries of the boom.

This has extended from companies that offer remote assistance or treatment for individual medical conditions like Respiri (ASX:RSH) and HeraMed (ASX:HMD) to companies that help the broader industry or communities such as Intelicare (ASX:ICR) and 1st Group (ASX:1ST).

A couple of catalysts have seen the sector grow further, including Victoria’s second lockdown and some telehealth providers teaming up with buy now, pay later companies to make themselves more accessible to prospective patients.

But there’s no guarantee the boom will continue beyond COVID-19.

Bloomberg reported China’s telehealth sector witnessed a decline in July as the COVID-19 threat lessened in that country.

China’s monthly active users (MAU) of telehealth services declined 6.7 per cent over the month.

Analyst Nikkie Lu said this was a sure sign the country had the virus under control — for now.

Urgent clarity needed

Australia’s telehealth industry is concerned a similar decline will occur unless steps are taken to ensure its continued viability.

Several suggestions were made by doctors last week, including investing in programs to make it easier for the technologically-challenged to investing in internet coverage in rural areas.

But a major concern stems from a fast approaching deadline.

Currently the Morrison government is subsidising telehealth services through Medicare. But this will cease at the end of September.

Last week Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) chair Dr Bruce Willett called on the Morrison government to make the subsidies permanent or at least extend the deadline, but either way do it fast.

“With the September deadline looming, patients and GPs urgently need clarity on the future of telehealth and e-prescribing services,” he said.

“Patients and their GPs have embraced telehealth. The overwhelming majority of GPs are now offering these services to patients in cities and regional and remote towns across the country.

“Telehealth has not only helped to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, it has greatly improved flexibility for patients in accessing care.”

Global Health (ASX:GLH) CEO Matthew Cherian backed the call.

“Given our ‘big country’, telehealth — especially for the remote — should be a Medicare item permanently,” he told Stockhead.

Video ahead of telephone appointments

However, Cherian also believes the government should be encouraging video ahead of telephone appointments because visual clues are important for diagnosing patients.

1st Group’s managing director Klaus Bartosch also shares this sentiment.

“I doubt when the term ‘telehealth’ was created people intended it to be a phone call, it was intended as a video call. The reason is they’re known to deliver better clinical outcomes for patients and a more reliable health service,” he told Stockhead.

Read the article on the Stockhead website here.

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