Physicians say Federal Budget must include Telehealth items or risk cutting off care in regional and remote communities

9 March 2022

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says that this year’s budget must include an extension of specialist Telehealth items by phone as a permanent feature of the healthcare system.

The College says that removing the Telehealth phone MBS services will impact many patients in rural and remote areas, those living with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other people who may have limitations in travelling or accessing video technology.

RACP President and Respiratory Physician Professor John Wilson says “Without the option of Telehealth phone consultations, many patients will simply be cut off from their specialist care provider.

“If these MBS phone items are not carried forward beyond June 30, it will be the elderly, those with less advanced technical knowledge, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, some people living with disability, and people in rural and remote locations – who will suffer.

“A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was the way it opened up a way of improving access to specialist care for everyone through telehealth.

“If we let that go, we’ve really wasted some important lessons from the pandemic.

“People in regional and rural areas struggle to travel to specialist clinic, and some may simply not have access to or knowledge of video-conferencing technology.

“We want to see the Federal Government and the Opposition recognise the importance of equitable access to specialist care and include phone consultations in their 2022-23 Budget.” Professor Wilson said.

Phone consultations are preferred by many patients or necessitated by patient-specific circumstances such as old age, fragility, intellectual disabilities, less advanced technical knowledge, low bandwidth, geographical barriers, and inability to access in-person care.

Mariel, who has a type of blood cancer, has frequently used telehealth by phone since the start of the pandemic and is concerned about the costs and removal of choice if the MBS items cease past June 30.

“Telehealth offers choice to those who like it and need it.

“I live in Victoria and sometimes travel all the way to Albury in NSW for appointments, and have recently begun appointments with a psychologist to help with the mental effects of the pandemic and living alone. Fitting all of this in would not be possible without phone-based telehealth.

“Having that choice and accessibility is so important.”

The RACP Pre-Budget Submission focuses on seven key areas:

  • Boosting the COVID-19 response, recovery and preparedness system
  • Delivering integrated and innovative health care to improve access and quality
  • Building an appropriately funded and safe medical specialist workforce
  • Closing the gap on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
  • Prioritising children and young people’s recovery from the setbacks of COVID-19
  • Strengthening support for preventive health
  • Making our health system low-carbon and climate resilient.

Access the Pre-Budget Submission

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