Webinar: Impact of COVID-19 on the Australian Health Workforce
COVID-19 has had far-reaching effects on all sectors of our society, but few sectors have been as directly affected as the health workforce. On 26 October 2020, we hosted a webinar to discuss how the Australian health workforce has been changed by the pandemic.
Moderated by Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite, the session featured presentations by Professor Anthony Scott of the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne and Associate Professor Liam Caffery of the University of Queensland.
Professor Scott explored the effects of COVID-19 on the working patterns, mental health and finances of Australian GPs and non-GP specialists working in private practices. His presentation drew on his recent findings from a Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) survey.
From there, Associate Professor Liam Caffery discussed telehealth in Australian general practices – before, during and after the pandemic. While telehealth is not new, its uptake was slow and fragmented prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden switch to greater telehealth use has highlighted a number of unexpected outcomes.
During the session, the panelists received several questions from attendees and they provided the following responses:
Do you have any data comparing the different states and territories? Do you think it would be different based on the extent of lockdown?
Prof Scott: There are some interesting differences emerging from the Taking the Pulse Survey by State with Victoria in lockdown, showing that telehealth use was around 18% in Victoria during lockdown and around 8% in the rest of Australia.
Is there any plan to repeat the survey? If so, how long will you wait to do the follow-up?
Prof Scott: There are no plans to repeat the MABEL COVID-19 SOS, and the overall funding for MABEL ended in 2019. But we are still looking for opportunities.
It is alarming to see the level of impact on stress and mental health among doctors. I am wondering if you could tease out what are the main causes of their stress/mental health? For example, factors could be financial situation, Covid impact on health of doctors and their families (e.g., their kids have to be sent childcare (because doctors cannot work at home) while most other parents are able to keep their kids at home), surrounding factors (lack of essentials due to others’ hoarding, etc.) or uncertainty around lockdown rules, etc.
Prof Scott: We have data from Wave 11 as well as MABEL COVID-19 SOS on mental health, but have not yet analysed these data to examine workplace risk factors (other than COVID-19).
I would be interested to know how the graphs look with the inclusion of more recent data from July-October. Specifically, is telehealth continuing to be used following the easing of COVID restrictions?
A/Prof Caffery: Our website (https://coh.centre.uq.edu.au/telehealth-and-coronavirus-medicare-benefits-schedule-mbs-activity-australia) will continually update this data.
What is the difference between Virtual models of care and telehealth?
A/Prof Caffery: Virtual care = telehealth, remote monitoring, secure email – anything where there is separation between clinician and patient.