Boost telehealth in the bush, rural doctors urge parties

 

RFW supports the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) call for  a strong commitment to boost access to telehealth services for patients in the bush. We are also advocating for policy shifts, such as Allied Health Medicare rebates, and are seeking financial support from government, business and philanthropic partners to underpin our telecare services.

With a strong track record since inception in 2014, RFW’s award winning Telecare for Kids service is providing Speech, Occupational Therapy and Psychology services to children via over 100 primary schools in rural and remote Australia, however funding of these services remains an ongoing challenge, despite the need. Many communities do not have local in-person services, with long travel times required to access specialist allied health services. Unfortunately, this often means that children are missing out on screening, diagnosis and treatment, and are starting school without the skills and capabilities they need to learn. The ability to hold a pen, to make themselves understood, to dress themselves and make friends. In the long term, this can have implications for both the educational and health outcomes for the child, and more broadly for the community and regional employers, which will rely on these future workers to support Australia’s regional economy.

The following media release in June 2018 from the RDAA and ACRRM has our broad support:

As the major political parties develop their election platforms in the lead-up to the next federal election, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) are calling for a strong commitment to boost access to telehealth services for patients in the bush. RDAA and ACRRM have lodged a submission with the major parties that proposes increasing access to telehealth consults with rural GPs as part of a cycle of care arrangement for rural and remote patients.

The patient would first see their regular rural or remote GP face-to-face and then be able to access and MBS rebate for a fixed number of follow-up consultations by telehealth — not just for specific conditions, but also for routine general practice health care checks. The submission has been supported by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

RDAA President, Dr Adam Coltzau, said: “Telehealth is already proving its worth in making healthcare more accessible to rural and remote patients, through enabling them to undertake follow-up consults with distant specialists via videoconferencing (accompanied by their local GP) or to undertake mental health consults with psychologists. This has been a great start, and we commend the current and previous governments for investing in this important area. But it is now time to take telehealth to the next level. We are calling on the Federal Government to now fund telehealth consultations for rural and remote patients with their local GPs, and for Federal Labor to commit to doing the same if they are elected. Boosting access to consults with local rural GPs via telehealth for those living in the bush would be a tremendous step forward in making it easier for more rural and remote patients to improve their health outcomes.”

ACRRM President, Associate Professor Ruth Stewart, said: “The tyranny of distance discourages many rural patients from seeing their doctor. For many rural patients who live on properties far from town, or who live many hours’ drive away from their nearest GP, a trip to the doctor even for a short consultation can entail a full day away from the farm, work or home. Sometimes this can be a big contributor in rural and remote patients not visiting their doctor, even when they have an underlying health condition and should be seeing the doctor regularly for checkups. Increasing access to telehealth consults with their regular GP for these patients will make it much easier for them to get their health checked regularly. The initial rollout of telehealth in the specialist care and mental healthcare space has shown that it can be very successful in making healthcare more accessible in the bush.” 

Read their full submission here.