Woolworths has announced its entry into the telehealth space, in a move that many are calling a “no-brainer” for the Australian supermarket giant.
The company is offering virtual doctor consultations to customers via its HealthyLife mobile app and website.
Users will have virtual access to doctors across the country who have availability in their schedules for virtual consultations. Appointments cost $45 for 15-minutes. Bulk-billing is not yet available for the service.
Users can also speak with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist for $115, and naturopath consultations are free.
HealthyLife managing director Ananth Sarathy said the offering is a big leap for the business.
However, pharmacy and GP industry groups have called for caution and are warning against people relying solely on telehealth services.
But Mr Sarathy said HealthyLife is not designed to replace in-person consultations, but give patients options when they can’t access other care.
“We know that there are many reasons why patients may need to speak with a real GP via phone or video call. For example, when they are not physically able to leave the house, for children’s health advice, or simply because they cannot access their regular doctor,” he said.
“We hope our telehealth offering helps bridge the gap in those moments when customers need fast and convenient access to a health practitioner.”
The move is expected to be a hit with older Australians, who were early adopters of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a survey by the Australian Digital Health Agency, around 35 per cent of Australians aged over 65 used telehealth services during the pandemic, compared to just 6 per cent in 2019.
The use of telehealth has rapidly scaled up, with more than 85 million telehealth services provided to over 16 million individuals as of September 2022 – most of whom are elderly and people with high-risk conditions.
Around 85 per cent of Australians over 60 surveyed by the Global Centre for Modern Ageing (GCMA) said the quality of care/treatment provided during telehealth consultations was the same or better than a face-to-face consultation. Almost nine in 10 (88 per cent) said the value for money was the same or better than they usually experienced.
“Older Australians like telehealth for its convenience, reduced travel and ability to be conducted at home,” said GCMA chief executive Julianne Parkinson.
Telehealth has been particularly important for older Australians, who are more likely to have chronic health conditions and mobility issues that make it difficult to attend in-person appointments.
“Telehealth has been a lifeline for many older Australians during the pandemic,” says Dr Karen Price, president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA). “By offering telehealth services through its app, Woolworths is making it even easier for older Australians to access the care they need.”
The move is expected to be a game changer for Australians living in regional and remote areas, who often have limited access to healthcare services.
“Telehealth has the potential to revolutionise healthcare in regional and remote areas,” says Dr Price. “By offering virtual consultations, Woolworths is helping to bridge the gap between city and country healthcare.”
Woolworths’ entry into the telehealth space comes as demand for virtual doctor consultations is soaring. According to a report by Deloitte, the telehealth market in Australia is expected to be worth $12.1 billion by 2025, up from just $1.1 billion in 2019.
With its wide reach and trusted brand, Woolworths is well-positioned to capture a significant slice of this growing market. The company’s move into telehealth is also in line with its broader strategy of expanding its healthcare offerings. In 2021, Woolworths acquired a majority stake in Australian pharmaceutical distributor API, signalling its ambitions in the healthcare sector.
For Woolworths customers, the move into telehealth is a welcome addition to the company’s existing offerings, which include groceries, liquor, and insurance – and its commitment to meet the needs of its customers.
“Telehealth is a natural extension of our existing healthcare offerings,” Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has been quoted. “We’re excited to offer our customers a convenient and accessible way to access healthcare services.”
As Dr Price notes, “Telehealth is here to stay, and we expect to see more companies like Woolworths entering the market in the coming years.”
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