Government invests $400 million in telehealth, video conferencing services

Patients in remote areas to receive consultations via internet

The Australian government has announced that from 1 July 2011 patients in remote, regional and outer metropolitan areas will receive greater access to specialists through new investments in telehealth consultations via the internet.

Confirmed in its mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, the government’s investment will provide patients with access to electronic consultations.

Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, said in a statement that with twice as many specialists per capita in major cities compared to regional and remote areas, this investment will help to reduce barriers to specialist medical services for patients.

“This new investment will also lead to a large expansion of telehealth services on the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS), which will be developed following consultation with clinicians and health consumers. The government will soon be releasing a discussion paper for input from stakeholders on the development of the telehealth MBS items.”

The government is investing over $400 million in telehealth services including some $352 million for Medicare rebates for online consultations and incentives for GPsspecialists to participate in online training, along with $50 million for the GP after hours helpline to include video conferencing capability.

Roxon said the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) will play a key part in allowing patients to experience the benefits of telehealth.

“A report by Access Economics earlier this year pointed to the lack of high-speed broadband, particularly in regional and remote areas, as one of the reasons telehealth in Australia has been held back. The NBN will mean that health professionals will be able to unlock the potential of telehealth by providing patients with more sophisticated services that require high-speed broadband,” she said.

The investments form part of the government's health reform agenda.

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