REGIONAL Health Minister Dr David Gillespie has welcomed a telehealth initiative commencing which allows improved access to psychological services, for regional Australians.
He says a major barrier to rural residents accessing vital mental health treatment will be removed by a new Medicare rebate being introduced for online videoconferencing mental health consultations, with psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.
The Coalition government initiative will cost $9.1 million over four years from 2017–18 to 2020–21 with the claim date starting on November 1.
Under the new expanded arrangements up to seven of the ten sessions currently available through Medicare mental health plans will be available via telehealth.
One of the first four sessions will be face-to-face to help build a personal connection with the treating mental health professional.
“This new initiative significantly reduces the inconvenience, time and expense of having to travel to larger regional centres or major cities for better access psychological services,” Dr Gillespie said.
“Allied mental health professionals will be able to connect sooner with their rural and remote patients in need of psychological services.
“The demand for psychological services in rural and regional Australia is growing – but a key barrier to accessing services is the scarcity of allied mental health professionals in some areas.”
Dr Gillespie said people living in rural and regional areas often have reduced access to health care.
“They have to travel greater distances to receive medical services, experience higher rates of ill health and face higher death, illness and disease risk factors than people living in major cities,” he said.
“The Coalition Government is committed to bridging the city–country divide in providing access to health services around this nation.
“People interested in using telehealth psychological services are encouraged to speak to their GP.
“People can check if they are in an eligible rural or remote location by entering their address or general location on the Doctor Connect website.”
Meanwhile, Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester has welcomed the federal government’s Rural Junior Doctor Training Innovation Fund (RJDTIF) which he says will support 240 accredited intern rotations in primary care settings each year, or at least 60 full-time equivalent places.
“This program will expose interns to rural general practice, Aboriginal medical services and other primary care rotations,” Mr Chester said.
“Exposure to these fields in a regional setting increases the likelihood these young doctors will choose to practise in regional locations after becoming more qualified.
“Funding will be provided to assist with intern salaries while the junior doctor is working in a primary care setting; and for clinical supervision and support costs during the primary care rotation.
“The fund also covers administration and education support; reasonable travel and accommodation costs; minor training related infrastructure for the primary care setting; and office refurbishments for the intern at the rotation location.”
Dr Gillespie said the fund would help tackle one of Australia’s biggest health challenges - getting more doctors in regional, rural and remote Australia.
“Following strong demand from the first round, I am pleased to announce that a second round of the program is now open for organisations to develop training rotations,” he said.
“The program is designed so that rural-based junior doctors completing their intern year can gain experience in rural general practice, in addition to their hospital-based rotations.
“This will improve the pathway for new graduates into challenging and rewarding careers as doctors with the skills rural communities need.”