Ehealth: AMA call for bush broadband boost

NBN fixed line and fixed wireless footprint should be extended wherever possible, says the Australian Medical Association

The Australian Medical Association has called on the government to tackle barriers to the use of ehealth and telemedicine in rural and regional Australia.

In a position paper released this week the AMA argued that “the utilisation of telehealth and telemedicine in rural and remote Australia remains patchy and is not used to full potential, because of no, or inadequate internet access”.

Internet connections in rural areas are often expensive, slow and have relatively small download allowances, the AMA said.

The AMA called for “measures to prioritise or optimise the broadband capacity available by satellite for hospitals and medical practices, such as exempting or allocating higher data allowance quotas, or providing a separate data allowance”.

The organisation cited moves by NBN to develop a product for distance education that involves a separate port on satellite services made available to students.

NBN has previously said the offering would involve making a separate 25/5Mbps connection available for education services, with a quota of 50GB per month per student (up to 150GB for a single household).

The second National Broadband Network satellite — Sky Muster II — was launched in October.

The AMA also called for the extension of the fixed line and fixed wireless footprints of the NBN and of mobile coverage wherever possible.

In addition, the Universal Service Obligation should be replaced, in line with the recommendations in the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Review.

“Regional and rural communities already face a range of disadvantages when compared to their city counterparts,” said AMA vice-president Dr Tony Bartone.

“They have more difficulty accessing health services close to home, are more likely to put off visiting their GP due to distance and cost, and have higher rates of potentially preventable hospitalisations.

“It is essential that these Australians have access to the same standard of health care, including that provided via technology, as those living in the major cities.”

“However, many regional and remote areas have very poor internet connections, with relatively small download allowances, and at a much higher cost and slower speed than the services available in our cities,” Bartone said.

The AMA Rural Health Issues Survey 2016 identified access to high speed broadband for medical practices as the top priority for rural GPs, he added.

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