People living in rural and remote regions of Australia will get the same access to psychologists as those living in our major cities, under a new telehealth initiative set to roll out later this year.
A major barrier to rural residents accessing vital mental health treatment will be removed with the introduction of a new Medicare rebate for online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists.
Under the new arrangements, up to seven of the ten sessions currently available under Medicare rebatable mental health plans will be available via telehealth.
The initiative is the first to be rolled out following the announcement of the Regional Australia Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister.
Many rural people who were likely going untreated will now receive appropriate care as a result.
From November 1, people in rural and regional Australia will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for timely and convenient online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists and other health professionals who might be thousands of kilometres away.
No longer will they have the inconvenience, time and expense of having to travel to larger regional centres or major cities for sessions with their psychologist.
Health professionals will be able to connect sooner and more regularly with patients in need of psychological services.
This initiative will cost $9 million over four years from 2017–18 to 2020–21.
President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr Ewen McPhee, said early intervention in acute mental health crisis can assist a patient in getting better more quickly.
“There is no doubt that enhanced access to psychological services will help narrow the gap in health equity for rural people,” Dr McPhee said.
“Rural people are stoic. They often do the hard yards in face of the vagaries of the weather, remoteness and the rural economy. When the going is tough it's good to know they can access the same care as city folk.
“Rural suicide rates have never been higher, and this is an important investment by the Coalition in the health of all rural Australians.”
The demand for psychological services in rural and regional Australia is growing – but a key barrier to accessing services is the scarcity of professional mental health professionals in some areas.
The Medicare rebatable psychological services via telehealth will be available for patients living in Modified Monash Model regions four to seven, which cover smaller country towns and remote and very remote locations.
This will ensure that the services go to areas with the biggest access challenges, not to larger regional centres that are more likely to have resident psychologists and other health professionals.
We know that 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 demonstrate higher death, illness and health and disease risk factors than people living in major cities.
The Coalition Government is committed to bridging the city–country divide in providing access to health services around this nation.