Telehealth in drought affected areas now covered by Medicare rebates

Doug Hendrie

26/10/2018 3:10:55 PM

For the first time, rural GPs in drought-affected areas will be able to bill Medicare for mental health consultations by phone.

Fresh hope for drought affected areas.
Fresh hope for drought affected areas.

The news brings the RACGP’s long-sought goal of government-funded general practice telehealth a step closer, coming after Health Minister Greg Hunt announced at the recent GP18 conference that he agreed with the college’s view that telehealth was the ‘future of general practice.’
Health Minister Greg Hunt today announced a $3.6 million Medicare funding boost to allow rural GPs to offer mental health support remotely.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon welcomed the news and said telehealth would boost mental health assistance for Australians in the bush.
‘This is an incredibly hard time for those affected by the drought, and the mental health of people in these communities is an area of key concern at this time,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘Today's announcement is a step in the right direction towards addressing the prevalence of mental health issues in our community.’
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Ayman Shenouda said the news would remove barriers for patients needing to talk about mental health issues.
‘Allowing a patient to claim a Medicare rebate for a phone call with their GP is an excellent way of making sure that high level healthcare is affordable and accessible to our regional Australians,’ he said. 
‘In the bush it can be very hard to get our patients in the door to talk about their mental health, which we know is vital for their overall health.’
Mental health in drought-affected areas is a particular concern, with many farmers and residents hundreds of kilometres away from their nearest GP.
Much of Australia remains in severe drought, with NSW and southern Queensland particularly badly hit.
Mental health remains the single biggest issue GPs deal with, according to the 2018 RACGP’s Health of the Nation report.
Until now, there have been no Medicare rebates for direct GP-patient telehealth, with existing on-demand telehealth services billing patients privately.
The RACGP believes telehealth is ideally provided by a patient’s usual GP or practice to ensure continuity of care.
The RACGP last year called for the modernisation of consultative medicine by ending restrictions on telehealth in a submission to the MBS Review Taskforce.
‘GPs are impaired by the inability to use technology to consult with patients. Telehealth offers many advantages and there is ample evidence supporting the benefit of telehealth consultations between a patient and their GP,’ the submission states.
The drought telehealth proposal was first announced in August as part of an $11.4 million mental health drought support package, after which several months of consultation on the parameters for eligibility took place.

drought ehealth funding mental health telehealth

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Markhughes   30/10/2018 7:54:30 AM

Telehealth item numbers in the past have generally attracted higher Medicare rebates. What mechanisms are in place to prevent exploitation of this service ala after hours deputising services?