The announcement of changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule which allows GPs to connect with patients via telehealth could be a game changer for people living in some of Australia's most remote areas.
Telehealth uses video conferencing to link up specialists and GPs with people who don't have easy access to services.
And for some it is the difference between a diagnosis and treatment, or nothing at all.
"Unfortunately, there is a cohort of patients, sometimes with a chronic disease such as diabetes, predialysis chronic kidney disease, or increasingly depression or other mental health concerns, in our most remote locations who just don't travel the sometimes hundreds of kilometres to see their GP on a regular basis," Dr Adam Coltzau the president of Rural Doctors Association of Australia said.
"We know there is a group of patients out there in remote Australia, busy farmers for example who are struggling to keep their farms afloat, who simply don't have the time to get to town and see their doctor in person."
Changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule was announced this week by the Department of Health and will come into effect on November 1.
And while the online health service will allow GPs to provide care remotely, to ensure treatment or disease management remains current, Dr Coltzau has some reservations.
To be eligible, patients would need to have had three face-to-face consults in the past 12 months, and have access to the internet.
"The need for three face-to-face visits may severely limit the cohort of patients who are able to access these items, and this is the cohort of patients who would benefit the most from the additional care," Dr Coltzau said.
"While we acknowledge the need for checks and balances to ensure the system is not being exploited, we also need for it to be flexible enough so it can be implemented in a way that will increase the likelihood that these most vulnerable patients receive the care they deserve."
He said the Rural Doctors Association holds concerns about connectivity in rural areas, which have long been left behind in advancements.
"In some remote locations the internet connectivity is not always reliable. Satellite broadband can be affected by a range of issues, including weather, and if something goes wrong with the hardware it can take months to get a technician out to fix it," Dr Coltzau said.
"We would like to see this altered to stipulate that videoconferencing must be attempted, but if a suitable link is not able to be established, consultation by phone may proceed.
"This is a step forward in recognising the value that technology can play to support a patient's continued care by their regular GP, rather than models which could potentially fragment their care."
The story Telehealth connection a game changer for people living remote first appeared on Katherine Times.