Phone, online GP visits are minister's aim

Health Minister Greg Hunt has begun work on a 10-year plan he hopes will make phone and online doctor consultations available through Medicare.


Greg Hunt is developing a 10-year plan to transform Australia's primary health care system. (AAP)

Giving Australians the opportunity to speak with their doctor over the phone and online through Medicare is at the heart of a plan being created by Health Minister Greg Hunt.

The minister has begun meeting with medical groups as he develops a 10-year plan to transform Australia's primary health care system, by providing the option of voluntary telehealth consultations.

"At the moment, you have to see your doctor face-to-face. Yet in every other area of our life, face-to-face is important, but we use technology," Mr Hunt told AAP.

"I'm opening up telehealth, teleconference, phone, text, email - all of the modern tools that are available, except through Medicare."

The minister says the work builds on government efforts to increase telehealth opportunities in the past 18 months.

People aged over 70 are the priority, on the advice of the Australian Medical Association and College of General Practitioners.

The minister has much more on his plate following the government's convincing election victory.

Also in the field of primary health care - the kind provided in the community - he's eager to keep streamlining the processes through which newly-created medicines, procedures and devices are made available in Australia.

On hospitals, Mr Hunt is eyeing another wave of reforms designed at keeping private health insurance premiums in check, to ensure the number of people who are insured doesn't fall.

"If private health insurance numbers drop, then that would affect the private hospitals and that would affect the public hospitals."

The government also has plenty of funding to roll out for already announced investments in specialist hospital services.

That includes $80 million on a new facility for CAR T-cell therapy at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, $100 million for a comprehensive cancer service at the Sydney Children's Hospital, and $65 million for a new cystic fibrosis centre at Westmead Hospital.

On the federal government's next hospital funding deal with the states - due to kick off next year - the minister is pleased with how things are travelling.

"I'm happy with that and happy with the progress with the states."

Mental health is another key area for Mr Hunt in the coming years, particularly youth mental health and suicide prevention.

The government hopes to prevent more people from taking their own lives by better supporting those with mental health conditions who have been discharged from hospital.

"When you focus on those people who have been discharged from hospital ... then there's the potential to have a dramatic reduction to loss of life to suicide."

The minister is also tasked with rolling out the government's 10-year medical research strategic plan, with a focus on making stem cell and genomic therapies available to Australians.

"These are the things that are going to absolutely transform medical treatment," he said.

"There's a fair argument that they are to the 21st century what penicillin was to the 20th century."

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Published 7 June 2019 at 1:30pm
Source: AAP