Telehealth to become a permanent fixture in Australia’s healthcare system

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Image: Davide Pischettola/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The federal government has announced it will invest over AU$100 million to make telehealth a permanent fixture within the country’s healthcare system.

The AU$106 million put into telehealth is part of a AU$309 million investment into Australia’s primary healthcare system. The remainder of that AU$309 million will be allocated towards supporting Australia’s mental health, improving health services in regional and rural Australia, improving access to Medicare, and supporting COVID-19 efforts.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt explained that the AU$106 million telehealth investment would be spent over four years, and includes almost AU$32 million of additional funding to support general practices in their efforts to provide ongoing telehealth services.

“Telehealth has been transformational to Australia’s universal health care and has played a critical role in ensuring the continuity of care for hundreds of thousands of Australian patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the health of patients and health professionals. It offers greater flexibility to health care as part of universal Medicare,” Hunt said.

Since early March 2020, more than 86.3 million COVID-19 Medicate Benefits Schedule telehealth services have been delivered to 16.1 million patients, with AU$4.4 billion in Medicare benefits paid, said Hunt.

In addition, more than 89,000 providers have used telehealth services.

On the same day, the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) said it is looking for a vendor to create a digital tool that can provide information about COVID-19 vaccines and how to access vaccinations to multicultural, homeless, and hard-to-reach groups.

The digital tool will be funded by the COVID-19 innovation fund, which was created by government to procure new and emerging digital health solutions that align with the national COVID-19 vaccine rollout and future proof Australia’s healthcare system.

In the ADHA’s request for tender, it said it wants a tool that can clearly identify these groups and their varying needs, understand the complex and sometimes intersecting challenges they face, and use enduring infrastructure.

The request comes after various states across Australia went into lockdown this past year. During those lockdowns, many governments struggled to set up easily accessible digital solutions for culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The ADHA will be accepting tenders until 21 January 2022, and wants the tool to be delivered by June next year.

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