REMOTE patients will be able to see their regular GP without leaving the house, with changes to Medicare rebates starting from this month.
The new Medicare items covering GP and non-specialist consultations will enable patients based in the two most remote classification areas of Australia - areas 6 and 7 on the Modified Monash Model, which includes large areas across the pastoral areas, along the Eyre Peninsula and West Coast, as well as some regions in the Mallee and Riverland - will be able to have general consults with their GP via videolink.
However in order to be eligible, the patient must have had three face-to-face consults with their doctor in the past 12 months.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia has commended the federal government on the changes, saying they will make it much easier for remote Australians to access their doctor when they need to - without having to drive hundreds of kilometres to get there.
"RDAA, together with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, advocated strongly for these new GP-to-patient telehealth items" RDAA president John Hall said.
"We are very grateful to the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, the Minister for Regional Affairs Mark Coulton and their colleagues for implementing the new items in response.
"Those living in remote Australia will benefit enormously from this initiative, whether they utilise the new items for a medication review, follow-up to a previous treatment, for mental health help, or for other health needs."
Dr Hall said the convenience of this service may mean remote Australians are able to seek more frequent consultations with their doctor for physical and mental health concerns.
"If more remote Australians begin to book in video-consultations for medical appointments they might otherwise have delayed - particularly because it would have meant a day away from their farm and the costs of getting to town - this initiative will have been a success," he said.
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But RDAA has expressed concerns about the requirement to see the doctor three times in the previous year.
"To make them visit their GP three times before they can access telehealth might mean they never do," Dr Hall said.
"To this end, we'll be monitoring uptake of the items closely."
RDAA has also warned that, given the unreliability of broadband in many remote areas, consultation by telephone should be allowed if videoconferencing has been attempted but has not been successful.
"These concerns aside, we strongly welcome this step by the government in supporting the use of technology to deliver care to remote patients," Dr Hall said.
"We are hopeful that it may encourage many of these patients to seek more regular care than they otherwise would."
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