News

New telehealth funding ‘a good start’


Matt Woodley


29/10/2019 3:25:23 PM

But the Chair of RACGP Rural believes fewer restrictions and further expansion is required to ensure every Australian can access quality healthcare.

Rural road
One of the criteria for being eligible for subsidised telehealth consultations includes patients being at least 15 km by road from the GP.

The additional $45.5 million in Federal Government funding – to be spread out over three years – will enable GPs to access Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) payments for telehealth consultations with patients based in remote areas of Australia.
 
To be eligible for subsidised telehealth consultations, patients are required to:

  • live in a Modified Monash Model (MMM) 6 or 7 location
  • have an existing clinical relationship with the GP providing the telehealth consultation (defined as three face-to-face consultations in the past 12 months)
  • be at least 15 km by road from the GP.
RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda told newsGP that while the college welcomes any initiative to give rural and remote patients access to their GP, he remains hopeful the service will be made available in more areas in the future.
 
‘The criteria are a bit restrictive, but it is still a good start and hopefully with the success of this program it will expand in the future to cover more rural communities and give access to rural patients,’ he said.
 
‘This service should prove especially invaluable to those people who have suffered through a considerable period of drought in some of these areas.
 
‘It’s good to have this access to general practice with a different modality.’
 
The health minister in Australia’s largest geographic state, Western Australia, would also like to see telehealth consultations covered by Medicare expanded to include areas within the MMM5 boundary.
 
‘At the moment we have people right around the state who don’t have a GP in their town or even nearby,’ Roger Cook recently told the ABC.
 
‘Western Australia has a significantly lower proportion of GPs per head of population than any other state of Australia, so this is a particularly important issue for us.’
 
Minister Cook added that the expansion of the program will depend on how much the Federal Government is willing to spend on general practice.
 
‘We know that there are nine communities in Western Australia with populations greater than 100 people that have no resident GP service or no adequate visiting service,’ he said.
 
‘So if we can allow people in these smaller communities to have access to these telehealth services then they can continue to get good primary healthcare without the need to travel long distances.’
 
While temporary item numbers have already been made available to provide general mental health support services by video consultations to patients in drought-affected and flood-affected areas, the new program will expand on these services.
 
The 12 new telehealth item numbers will also mean GPs can receive Medicare rebates for a range of services, where previously they had only be available for providing patient-end clinical support during video consultations with a specialist, consultant physician or consultant psychiatrist, or Focussed Psychological Strategies (FPS) services.
 
The RACGP’s recently updated Telehealth video consultations guide can be found on the college website.

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MBS Medicare Benefits Schedule rural health telehealth



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