Telehealth extension a win – and a missed opportunity

29 Apr 2021

AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, said while the Government’s announcement was welcome, it was a missed opportunity to enshrine telehealth as a permanent feature of the Australian health system, particularly for vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations who rely on telephones and not video conferencing. 

“The existing telehealth items were designed specifically to respond to the COVID pandemic, which, as the recent lockdown in Perth illustrates, is far from over,” Dr Khorshid said. 

“COVID will continue to be a threat until the vaccine rollout is largely completed, which is not expected to be until the new year. 

“The COVID telehealth items were always temporary, and the Government has consistently signalled that it wants to work with the profession on a long-term, sustainable model that is suited to more normal times. 

“The AMA remains in important discussions with Government, emphasising that both short term COVID, as well as permanent arrangements, must ensure telehealth remains accessible for those who benefit from it most, including hard-to-reach groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, nursing home residents, rural and remote patients and those with mental illness. 

“The temporary extension signals that the Government intends preferencing video over telephone services for patients. 

“The impact of this change on those vulnerable communities with limited or no access to appropriate technology or internet is being made clear in our discussions with Government. 

“The advent of telehealth has been a silver lining to the COVID pandemic. 

“Access to telehealth during the pandemic has opened the eyes of the community to its benefits: increasing their access to health care. 

“However, while in the longer term the profession wants to see much greater use of video telehealth, if the Government takes this approach to a permanent model of telehealth for general practice, there is no doubt that those patients who are very reliant on the telephone will be disadvantaged. 

“The AMA will continue to work towards finalising permanent telehealth arrangements with Government as a matter of urgency, in a form that has the greatest benefits for patients, so that the profession and patients have certainty going forward.”