Telehealth to stay permanently

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that $106 million will be provided over the next four years to ensure telehealth becomes a permanent feature of primary health care.

Telehealth has been transformational to Australia’s universal health care and has played a critical role in ensuring the continuity of care for hundreds of thousands of Australian patients during the Covid-19 pandemic, protecting the health of patients and health professionals. It offers greater flexibility to health care as part of universal Medicare.

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 sum 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).

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the announcement of permanent telehealth, which the College has been advocating for.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price says making telehealth permanent was a big step forward for Australia’s health care system.

“This is a significant step forward for general practice and our entire health system. The RACGP has been working hard engaging with Government to make this happen, because we know the value of telehealth for patient care,” she says.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic telehealth has proven to be a valuable complement to face-to-face care, it increased access to care for patients in need and no doubt saved lives. I know patients and GPs alike will be glad and relieved to hear that these services will remain and will continue to support access to care for people across Australia.”

The RACGP President also welcomed the additional funding to practices through the inclusion of ongoing telehealth items in SWPE calculations.

“The RACGP has been calling for the inclusion of telehealth consultations in the SWPE calculation, which underpin practice funding, since telehealth started and it is good to see that the Government recognises telehealth as part of the size of the practice”.

Dr Price says the investment to deliver better health services in regional and rural Australia was sorely needed.

“Addressing Australia’s rural and remote GP workforce deficit is a top priority for the RACGP – everyone deserves access to high-quality primary care regardless of their postcode. The RACGP was pleased to be part of the formal Distribution Priority Area (DPA) review process with the Department of Health to address the doctor shortage crisis, and we welcome these changes,” she says.

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