Australia’s peak body of general practitioners (GPs) has given the Federal Government a pat on the back following the implementation of its telehealth incentive scheme last July, labelling the project a success in Western Australia.
The scheme, which operates under the government’s $620 million telehealth initiative, offers GPs who provide videolink consultations to patients in remote areas a $6000 one-off incentive payment to provide their first telehealth consultation to patients. The scheme also provides Medicare rebates to both city specialists and healthcare professionals who are physically with their patients during consultations.
To encourage bulk billing for services, the scheme also offers practitioners an extra $20 for each videolink service charged in that manner for the 12 months from 1 July.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said the initiative has broken down distance and cost barriers for rural and remote patients and enabled them access to a greater range of subsidised consultations.
RACGP WA Faculty Chair, Associate Professor Frank Jones, said video consultations and short message services (SMS) were integral to making healthcare accessible to all Australians.
“Western Australia’s vast geographical area lends itself to wide population dispersion, with a large proportion of the community residing outside of major metropolitan hubs,” Jones said in a statement. “Patients who previously had to drive hundreds of kilometres to receive healthcare, can now ‘see’ their doctor via video conference from the convenience of their own home.”
However, RACGP Telehealth Standards Taskforce chairman, Dr Mike Civil, said the full range of telehealth benefits have not yet been realised, along with opportunities for telehealth to expand into aged care facilities and into the homes of those living with disabilities.
“For many members of the community, including the elderly and disabled, travelling large distances to receive healthcare is not always an option,” Civil said in a statement. “This also goes both ways, with GPs not always able to complete regular home or community visits when time and resources are limited.”
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