| 29.05,20. 05:22 PM |
Rural telehealth Medicare rebates 'here to stay' past September says Federal Regional Health Minister
The Federal Regional Health Minister says there is no way Australia's going to drop telehealth.(Supplied: WACH, File Photo)
A decades-long fight for telehealth services in rural Australia could finally be at an end with the Federal Government committing to expand its Medicare subsidies.
The Government introduced Medicare rebates for telehealth services in March as part of a $1.1 billion funding package to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
That program is due to finish in September, but Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton said he will work with the rural health sector to continue to offer rebates for rural telehealth services.
"The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. There's no way we're going to go back to having no telehealth," Mr Coulton said.
"I'm confident that telehealth is here to stay [and] we'll be working with the sector to make sure that we come up with a more permanent process for telehealth that we've finetuned, and that it's something that works well for the practitioners as well as the patients.
Mr Coulton said the program had been very successful in enabling people to maintain contact with their doctor over the past two months.
Rural doctors welcome changes
The Rural Doctor's Association of Queensland (RDAQ) welcomed the commitment and said rural doctors had been pushing for telehealth reform for many years.
"We see that removing the barriers for rural and remote people to access health care is vital in closing the gap between rural and urban [communities] and closing the gap in the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in our country," RDAQ president Clare Walker said.
"There have been rural and remote patients who would normally put off a visit to their GP because it's not convenient to leave their property or to travel into town, and we've seen them be able to access the care they need."
Mr Coulton warned that it was important telehealth did not replace practitioners in rural areas.
"Unfortunately, we have seen some cases where some practices have basically set up a telehealth call centre-type service that don't offer face to face," he said.
"Telehealth does work in conjunction with face to face consultations."
Dr Walker agreed it was important telehealth services did not replace face to face consultations for people in rural and remote areas.
"We don't think a service that is delivered solely by telehealth is a suitable option for primary care, we think it is absolutely critical that primary care has a physical presence in the community where it is being delivered," she said.
"We don't want to see corporates providing a standalone telehealth service [where] there is no capacity to see someone face to face."