'Quiet revolution': Universal telehealth made permanent part of healthcare system

Telehealth will become a universal, permanent healthcare option in Australia as part of a $309 million government package announced this week, following its successful roll-out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors consult via telehealth.

Following its successful use during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth will become a permanent option for all Australians. Source: Getty

Telehealth - a crucial service to millions of Australians throughout the pandemic - will be permanently enshrined in Australia's healthcare system.  

The federal government this week announced a $309 million package for primary health care, which includes making the service, which allows patients to consult their doctor via phone or video, a permanent option subsidised by Medicare.

The government is providing $106 million over four years to support permanent telehealth services, allowing GPs, specialists, and allied health professionals to continue to consult with their regular patients by phone or online.

Telehealth services have helped to ease the burden for hospitals during the pandemic, Health Minister Greg Hunt said while announcing details of the healthcare package on Monday. 

"These combination of measures, of telehealth, rapid antigen testing, electronic prescriptions, and home medicine delivery are all about taking pressure off the hospitals and supporting patients and providing access," Mr Hunt told reporters.

Mr Hunt first announced the plan to make telehealth a permanent fixture of the health system in November but revealed further details on Monday.

Mr Hunt said telehealth had been a "quiet revolution" in the healthcare system and had been critical to Australia's success in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

"It has changed the way Australians are able to access healthcare," Mr Hunt said.

He thanked the Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGP) for consulting with the government on telehealth measures.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Secretary of the Department of Health Brendan Murphy on 10 December 2021.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Secretary of the Department of Health Brendan Murphy on 10 December 2021. Source: AAP

RACGP president Karen Price said Monday's announcement was a "wonderful day in the history of general practice".

"The era-defining episode of COVID has served to highlight just how intertwined health service delivery is with the health of the nation," Dr Price said.

"Telehealth has been a remarkable and innovative solution which enabled our country to stay as safe as possible."

But Dr Price said face-to-face consultations are still preferred by GPs.

"There is an allowance for a slightly longer consultation," she said.

"We are hopeful that will continue to evolve and it is used by GPs in an appropriate way in conjunction with usual care."

2 min read
Published 13 December 2021 at 11:24am
By Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS