Ten million telehealth services have been delivered to more than 3.2 million Australians in need of health care in regional, rural and remote Australia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare data has shown.
The Australian Government has introduced 283 new Medicare Benefits Schedule telehealth items since March this year, as the first wave of the coronavirus reached Australia to reduce exposure and the spread of COVID-19.
Federal Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton said the milestone showed rural Australians were continuing to receive health advice and care via phone and video to manage illnesses, stay well and stay out of hospital.
“Our first priority is the health and safety of the all Australians, and through the course of the pandemic telehealth has helped us protect patients in the regions and our frontline of health professionals,” Minister Coulton said.
“Australians have embraced telehealth services, as well as other physical distancing and hygiene measures, to keep on top of the low number of COVID-19 cases in rural and remote communities.”
The Regional Health Minister said that Australians will continue to have access to Medicare-subsidised telehealth for general practitioners, nursing, midwifery, allied health and mental health services where and when they need them. Telehealth has also been extended for essential specialist services.
“While Telehealth is not a replacement for face-to-face care, it is an important tool to facilitate health care access for rural and remote Australians, reducing the need to travel into town or a major city for a range of appointments,” Minister Coulton said.
“For some rural communities telehealth unlocks access to specialised health care not seen before locally, which is a gain in services for rural and remote communities.
“Before COVID-19, the rural health sector were leading users of telehealth to support the delivery of healthcare in the bush and they have supported its broad rollout and use across the country.
“The health sector has worked in close partnership with the Government to essentially roll out a decade of telehealth reforms in a matter of weeks.”
Minister Coulton said the Australian Government’s commitment to guaranteeing Medicare and strengthening primary care are enabling regional and rural Australians to easily access GP services.
“More than 43.4 million GP services were provided to patients outside our major cities last financial year, compared to 42.2 million in 2018–19, an increase of 2.7 per cent,” Minister Coulton said.
“Telehealth is here to stay. The Government is working with the health sector to consider a broader and permanent range of telehealth services in developing our Primary Care Plan.”
In the 2020-21 Budget the Government committed a further $2 billion to extend a range of COVID-19 health response measures until 31 March 2021.
“This extension will continue a broad range of Medicare telehealth services, where clinically appropriate,” Minister Coulton said.
“Our ongoing vigilance will help ensure we can enjoy the upcoming holiday season and make the most of the opportunities to reconnect with family and friends.”