Telehealth as a Model for Health Care Delivery for Underserved Populations

Telehealth as a Model for Health Care Delivery for Underserved Populations

In New Zealand, Telehealth provided health care during the COVID-19 lockdown, but its use has declined back to pre-COVID levels. Despite the fact that Telehealth is equivalent to in-person care, the lack of guidelines for design and implementation may result in risks to patient safety. Telehealth has not been widely adopted in New Zealand and evidence of why Telehealth has not become a standard aspect of health care delivery is lacking. This project aimed to investigate these reasons in three phases with a collaborative approach between academia (Massey University), industry (Vensa and other commercial partners) and the health sector (NZ Telehealth Leaders Group, NZTLG).

Research to benefit the underserved

Those underserved by more traditional ‘in person’ models of health care experience inequities in health care. Any telehealth system adopted must at not exacerbate these inequities, and should ideally reduce them. In New Zealand, rural older adults represent an underserved population group that will grow in numbers considerably in the near future, with high levels of chronic disease and disability and accounting for 50% of the total health expenditure. 

The rural older population encompasses other underserved populations, and they have additional barriers to telehealth than urban populations, so getting telehealth right for rural older adults means getting it right for the general population, and the findings will be generalisable. The research team has also established connections with rural older adult networks.

Phase one (6 months)

This phase was an exploratory determination of telehealth requirements of rural older adult underserved populations using published literature and case study analysis. It developed a draft national public framework for telehealth design and implementation, a draft evaluation framework for telehealth systems plus a feasibility analysis for a proof of concept telehealth system to test the framework.

This research phase ran from May to October 2021.


Research leads


Samuel Wong, Vensa Health

Associate Professor Inga Hunter, Massey University

Future work

Phase two (12-15 months) aims to develop a proof-of-concept telehealth system by expanding an existing commercial product (owned by Vensa) with pragmatic real-world testing with rural older adults and existing health care systems/organisations. Phase three (3-6 months) will evaluate both developed frameworks and the proof of concept telehealth system informing future development, implementation and adoption of telehealth in New Zealand. The framework for telehealth systems for the rural older adult underserved population will be extrapolated for a framework for the general population for telehealth.

Read the team’s progress report with preliminary learnings

About NZ Telehealth Leaders Group
The NZ Telehealth Forum is a group which includes clinicians, consumers, policymakers, planning and funding managers, ICT experts and industry representatives. Their vision is that Telehealth is embedded across the health sector as a sustainable way to deliver healthcare in New Zealand. Their mission is to provide leadership in the use of sustainable models of care enabled by Telehealth that supports equitable, patient-centred care. Find out more at www.telehealth.org.nz.

About Massey University
For more than 80 years, Massey University has helped shape the lives and communities of people in New Zealand and around the world. Its forward-thinking spirit, research-led teaching, and cutting-edge discoveries make Massey New Zealand’s defining university. Find out more at www.massey.ac.nz.

About Vensa Health

Vensa Health’s platform has delivered over 41 million health reminders for medical centres and practice teams across New Zealand. Vensa.com is designed to seamlessly take medical centres on a digital transformation journey. This journey looks to transforms the current way of working to provide new efficiencies and to facilitate more access, provide more convenience and create more affordable health services. Find out more at www.vensahealth.com.