Telehealth to become a permanent feature

Monday, 13 December, 2021

Telehealth to become a permanent feature

Telehealth services, which have helped improve access to health care and underpinned much of the government’s COVID-19 response, will become a permanent feature of primary health care.

The government is investing $308.6 million, including: $106 million for a permanent telehealth for Australian patients; $58.8 million to support Australian’s mental health with Better Access to vital services; $41.2 million to deliver better health services in regional and rural Australia; $77 million to improve access to Medicare; and $25.6 million to support our COVID-19 efforts through Primary Care.

Permanent telehealth

The government is providing $106 million over four years to support permanent telehealth services, ensuring greater flexibility to patients and doctors for the delivery of health care; allowing GPs, specialists and allied health professionals to continue to consult with their regular patients by phone or online.

Since early March 2020, more than 86.3 million COVID-19 MBS telehealth services have been delivered to 16.1 million patients, with $4.4 billion in Medicare benefits paid. More than 89,000 providers have used telehealth services.

This investment includes $31.8 million for the Workforce Incentive Program (WIP) to provide additional funding to general practices through the inclusion of ongoing telehealth items in the calculation of the Standard Whole Patient Equivalent (SWPE).

Improving mental health access

The additional MBS subsidised mental health support which has been available through the COVID-19 pandemic to psychiatrists, psychologists and GPs will be extended to December 2022.

This investment has already helped thousands of Australians access mental health services, doubling the number of individual Medicare subsidised psychological sessions each year under the Better Access scheme — up to 20 sessions.

Better Access is also available to aged-care residents, helping those residents in need of mental health care to also access up to 20 individual Medicare subsidised sessions a year.

Regional and rural health

The current arrangement, which automatically ascribes DPA classification to GP catchments in Modified Monash Model (MMM) 5-7 regions and the Northern Territory, will be expanded to include catchments in MMM 3-4.

This means more rural and regional areas will be able to use the DPA system when recruiting doctors for their region, which opens access to GPs in the Bonded Medical Program and Overseas Trained Doctors.

This change will help ensure rural and regional areas have a choice of more doctors to work in their local communities, leading to increased access to GP and primary care services for many thousands of Australians in regional and rural communities.

Incentivising rural doctors and nurse practitioners

The government will invest in a significant incentive for eligible doctors and nurse practitioners to practice in rural, remote or very remote areas of Australia, by remitting all or part of their Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP) debt.

This initiative allows for the suspension of indexation on HELP debts for eligible doctors and nurse practitioners while they are residing in and completing eligible work in a rural, remote or very remote area.

Incentivising doctors and nurse practitioners to live and work outside of metropolitan areas can help improve access to quality health care for local communities. The experience can also provide insights for early-career healthcare professionals into rural health, and inspire a passion to continue working in rural and regional areas.

Improving Medicare access

The government is investing $54.1 million to add new tests and treatments to the MBS, including several tests for inheritable diseases, including heart and kidney conditions.

Among the new items are: genetic testing for inheritable kidney disease (other than Alport syndrome); genetic testing for diagnosis of inheritable cardiac arrhythmia disorders; genetic testing for inheritable cardiomyopathies; genetic testing of alpha thalassaemia; non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) for foetal Rhesus D genotype; improvements to the National Cervical Screening Program Self-Collection Policy; and expansion of genetic testing for myeloproliferative neoplasms.

The government will also add a listing for prostate-specific membrane antigen positron emission tomography for the initial staging of intermediate to high-risk prostate cancer and for the restaging of recurrent prostate cancer.

From 1 March 2022, listings will be added for left atrial appendage closure for patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation and who are at risk of stroke, as well as expanded indications for transcatheter aortic valve implantation.

Also from 1 March, a new MBS telehealth item to support the remote programming of auditory implants and/or sound processors (eg, cochlear implants) will be available, which will provide increased access for rural and remote patients.

MBS allied health

The government is investing $20.8 million to deliver changes to the MBS, with a focus on allied health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and Participating Midwives services.

Effective allied health care is critical in preventing unnecessary hospitalisations for chronic conditions, improving patient outcomes, optimising physical and mental function and improving a patient’s ability to live independently.

Amendments to MBS items for allied health are designed to improve access to safe, high-quality and evidence-based services including: streamlining access for Indigenous people to services available under General Practice Management Plans and Health Assessments; improving access to complex allied health services for children and young adults living with disabilities and pervasive developmental disorder; and promoting safe clinical practice and high-quality maternity care through a restructure of intrapartum items and maternity care plans.

Remote supervision

The government is introducing new MBS items to allow a qualified health professional to conduct a COVID-19 Vaccine Suitability Assessment in a person’s place of residence without a GP being present.

This will ensure that those living in aged and disability care can still receive a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot without having to leave home.

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