Telehealth expansion a lifeline for Upper Spencer Gulf patients

FUNDIGN BOOST: Medicare-subsidised telehealth and pathology services, GP-led respiratory clinics, home medicines delivery, public and private hospital services will all be extended until March 2021. Image: SA Health.
FUNDIGN BOOST: Medicare-subsidised telehealth and pathology services, GP-led respiratory clinics, home medicines delivery, public and private hospital services will all be extended until March 2021. Image: SA Health.

Millions of Australians will continue to receive medical care and support in their own homes with a multi-billion dollar boost to coronavirus health measures.

The federal government has extended a range of COVID-19 health measures for a further six months, including telehealth.

National Rural Health Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O'Kane said the service has been a lifeline for people in rural, regional and remote Australia during the pandemic.

"It can be difficult enough to access health care in some areas at the best of times, but especially once you add in the difficulties caused by the pandemic including border restrictions," she said.

"Telehealth is vital to ensuring rural people can keep up their regular health checks during COVID-19 and ensure continuity of care."

The Alliance said that the Government should also be addressing some ongoing issues with telehealth if it was here to stay.

"Connectivity remains a big issue in rural Australia, and we need to be improving internet infrastructure in the bush otherwise telehealth is difficult or impossible for patients and health practitioners to use," Dr O'Kane said.

"We also need safeguards to ensure that telehealth is being delivered by local practitioners, and not online-only outfits based in the major cities who offer no face-to-face services."

The funding extension means patients will continue to have access to Medicare-subsidised telehealth for general practitioner, nursing, midwifery, allied health and allied mental health services, where and when they need them.

Telehealth is also being extended for essential specialist services, such as consultant physician, geriatrician, and neurosurgery services. Bulk billing will continue to be available and regular billing practices will apply to all of these services.

Flinders and Upper North Local Health (FUNLHN) Network CEO Craig Packard said allied health services will look to maintain telehealth beyond the pandemic.

However it is up to the federal government to decide whether support will continue for general practitioners to claim on medicare.

"It makes healthcare more accessible for people, especially those people who are in remote and rural areas that would normally have to travel or go without a service because they would wait months for staff to come to their area. It enables them to access it much sooner and when they need it," Mr Packard said.

"It absolutely has benefits. You still probably need to have face-to-face at intervals and times, but I think any move towards the use of technology in rural and remote areas is absolutely the way of the future."

Work on expanding the bandwidth connection at the Port Augusta Hospital has already begun and will be functional by November.

This story Telehealth expansion a lifeline for Upper Spencer Gulf patients first appeared on The Transcontinental.