One in six adults used telehealth services as Australians staying at home under new COVID-19 shelter-in-place rules sought healthcare.

Women were more likely than men to use a telehealth service and people with chronic and mental health conditions were twice as likely to use it as those without, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data released today.

One in six adults equates to 17 per cent of the population or 3.3 million people.

Telehealth services, which have been available but unloved since the early 2000s, suddenly saw a spike in demand in March when the federal government hastily added those services to the Medicare rebate list to allow people to avoid unnecessary travel.

The ABS data for the period from early April to early May said 43 per cent of the people who used telehealth did so as a replacement for a face-to-face appointment and another 41 per cent used it to take general health advice from a GP or other health professional.

Other reasons included managing a chronic condition and asking about COVID-19 symptoms.

However, some were not enamoured of the new system: 327,400 adults said they “were unable” to see a GP or other medical professional because the only option was via a telehealth service.

They may have to get used to the changes, however.

The federal government set a deadline of September 30 on the additional Medicare rebates for telehealth, which were ultimately expanded to cover all medical appointments for all Australians.

Until March, the lack of Medicare rebate had prevented doctors and other medical professionals from using telehealth services as they had to charge full price for the service provided.

Experts from analysts to investors and company executives now expect that most if not all will remain in place.

A sticking point is whether telehealth will have to be bulk billed, a system which means clinics can’t charge an extra fee on top of the Medicare payment. This could see some clinics stop using telehealth once the pandemic is over.

As primary care services use the pandemic to finally embrace technology, such as remote monitoring in hospitals and a virtual hospital at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, there is a possibility this could also encourage Australians and the medical system to use the government’s My health Record database.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) said this month that 95 per cent of public pathology labs were now connected to the system and using it.