Is a Phone Call Adequate For a Telehealth Consult?

Telehealth is currently available to all Australians, allowing them to access healthcare remotely. In many ways, Australians are early adopters of technology. We are a well connected nation when it comes to Internet access with more mobile accounts in the country than there are people. When it comes to telehealth, however, we haven’t done as well, with many healthcare practices conducting telehealth appointments just over the telephone instead.

While a phone consult can offer an alternative to a face-to-face appointment, voice communication runs a distant second to video conferencing when it comes to utility, practicality and efficacy in diagnosing problems or offering treatment. 

Visual Communication

In 1967, a group of researchers headed by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, now Professor Emeritus Psychology at the University of California, conducted a pair of studies into the way nonverbal communication can change meaning and perception.

One study had the participants listen to a recording of a woman saying “maybe” with three different inflections - one positive, one neutral and one negative. The participants were then shown photographs of a woman visually portraying positive, neutral and negative emotion. The participants accurately picked the emotions of the photos over the recording 3:2.

The other study had participants listen to nine words grouped into sets of three. One set of words was designed to give the impression of affinity (“dear”, “honey”, “thanks”), one to give the impression of neutrality (“maybe”, “oh”, “really”) and one dislike (“brute”, “terrible”, “don’t”). Each of these words was read three times, in three different tones of voice - positive, negative and neutral. The study showed that people responded more to tone than the actual words being said.

The conclusion of these studies became known as the 7% rule - that when it comes to judging emotional states, 7% is verbal, 38% is aural and 55% is visual. This rule may only be comprehensively applied to the task of judging emotion, but given how much we use emotion to communicate meaning visual non-verbal communication is still an extremely important factor in medical appointments.

What aren’t you seeing when you’re conducting a telehealth consult over the telephone? 

Outward signs of trauma or domestic violence may be visible through body language or even literal wounds. Someone can be crying but sound fine over the phone. People may be more unhealthy than they realise but show signs of illness that a practitioner could more accurately recognise through video. 

In essence, not being able to see a patient means that practitioners are making decisions using less information than they would get in a face to face consultation . Even though physical testing or intervention is not possible with videoconferencing, being able to see a patient provides a practitioner with much more information to work from.

Video conferencing is especially important for any psychotherapeutic telehealth appointment. Patients can easily hide how they are really feeling over the phone. In addition, diagnostics on appearance are often extremely useful but missed when you can’t see their appearance, their face and reactions.

Visual Examination

In addition to making communication clearer and giving it more context, being able to see a patient in a video chat offers another benefit - the ability to visually inspect a wound, infection, rash or the like . Video telehealth is certainly applicable for the diagnosis and treatment of minor wounds and physical ailments, such as cuts, burns, grazes, sprains and rashes - things that people would usually make a face to face appointment to have looked at.

Rather than requiring travel, or worse, having a patient try to describe their ailment, simply being able to show it on camera gives a far better impression of the problem than just words. A patch of painful blisters may have any one of a number of causes, including shingles, an allergy, a chemical burn, plant dermatitis, pompholyx eczema, impetigo or cellulitis. Working through symptoms over the phone to try and reach a conclusion could be a time consuming and difficult process. Simply showing the blisters on camera has far greater efficacy and generates a more timely and accurate diagnosis.

Being able to visually examine an injury or illness is also an invaluable tool when it comes to triage and aftercare. It is easy to see the progress of healing (or lack thereof) so that both you and the patient can stay on top of any aftercare, or any trips to your practice that may be needed for extra treatment.

Embrace the future of Australian medicine and join the telehealth revolution


Not only does video conferencing give practitioners far greater ability to communicate and diagnose than a simple phone call, the vast majority of video conferencing platforms used for telehealth also feature levels of utility that far outstrip a voice call.

EasyTelehealth , the integrated, browser-based telehealth solution used by MyHealth1st features a number of tools that practitioners across modalities can use to improve the efficacy of telehealth consults and streamline appointments.

Screen Sharing

Being able to share screens means that patients and practitioners can easily share information. This could be in the form of an instructional video, diagrams or other educational pieces a practitioner might share with a patient. Similarly a patient may share images, videos, photos, diaries, progress reports and the like with their practitioners.

Secure File Sharing

Screen sharing only allows practitioners and patients to view the same webpage, document, image or video on their device (computer, tablet, smart phone). Secure file sharing allows patients and practitioners to send each other documents. Medical histories, test results, forms or other documentation can be quickly and securely shared between patient and practitioner, or practitioner and specialist.  

Secure file sharing also makes ePrescriptions possible, with the prescription documentation sent directly to the patient or pharmacy from the practitioner’s device.

Group Consultation

Video conferencing technology also makes it easy to bring additional people into a consultation if needed. A child and their parent can be in a single video consultation with a healthcare worker, or a primary care physician, a specialist, a patient and a translator could all work together in a single chat. EasyTelehealth supports four people in a secure video conferencing, ensuring that you can talk to who you need to without having to worry about privacy, data security or the hassle of trying to start a group phone call.


One of the arguments against practices embracing video telehealth seems to be one of infrastructure, with many practices and practitioners not believing they have the equipment to conduct video chat. With a very few exceptions, this is not the case.

EasyTelehealth is browser based, meaning it requires no special programs to run and will instead run on any device with an Internet browser and Internet access. This means it will work with personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. 

Australia has something of a love affair with smartphones - there are an estimated 18.44 million smartphone users in the country. In a population of just over 25.6 million, that accounts for the vast majority of adults, teenagers and adolescents. In essence, nearly everyone who may schedule a medical appointment has access to a device that can be used for telehealth. 

Although they are not as ubiquitous as smartphones, tablet devices are also remarkably common in Australia, with over 11 million being purchased by 2018. 

Both smartphones and tablets have built in cameras and microphones, two things that are needed for video telehealth. Most modem laptop computers also feature a webcam and microphone as well. That only leaves personal computers and some laptops as video telehealth platforms that may need some expenditure to make it telehealth compatible.

A webcam and headset with built in microphone (or stand alone USB microphone) represents a small expenditure, with a webcam and headset setting you back less than a single telehealth consult would recoup.


To find out more about how MyHealth1st and EasyTelehealth can help your practice reach new patients, extend your reach and can benefit both you and your existing telehealth patients, simply click the link below to schedule a call with one of our telehealth experts.

MyHealth1st is dedicated to providing both patients and practices with access to tools and technology that makes the healthcare journey an easy and effective one. 

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