NRHA CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane (Photo: NRHA)

September 18, 2020

The National Rural Health Alliance, the peak body for rural health in Australia, has welcomed the Federal Government’s expansion of Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations until March 31 next year.

The Medicare rebates, which were brought in to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, were due to expire on September 30.

“Telehealth has been an important lifeline for people in rural, regional and remote Australia during the pandemic,” NRHA CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane said.

“It can be difficult enough to access health care in some areas at the best of times, but especially once you add in the difficulties caused by the pandemic including border restrictions.

“Telehealth is vital to ensuring rural people can keep up their regular health checks during COVID-19 and ensure continuity of care.”

Dr O’Kane said the Federal Government should also be addressing some ongoing issues with telehealth if it were here to stay.

“Connectivity remains a big issue in rural Australia, and we need to be improving internet infrastructure in the bush otherwise telehealth is difficult or impossible for patients and health practitioners to use,” she said

“We also need safeguards to ensure that telehealth is being delivered by local practitioners, and not online-only outfits based in the major cities who offer no face-to-face services.”

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