15NRHC Recommendation - 03/25/2019 - 13:08

Give rural Australians a fair share of access to primary health care according to their needs and not according to where they live.

Given the facts and evidence, the National Rural Health Alliance and its partners need to advocate for unrestricted Medicare rebates for primary health care, using telehealth for those living in outer regional, remote and very remote areas of Australia.

This action would cost $180m per annum offset by reduced hospitalisation, less RFDS evacuations and improve chronic disease management and restore fairness in access to Medicare for rural and remote Australians.

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There are also savings in travel, patient travel, impact on very remote roads as well as reduction in time away from family and work. We have shown that we have saved lives and improve health care outcomes - how can we put a $$ figure on that? We have demonstrated that there is a minimum of $13,000 per month savings in 3 very remote Aboriginal communities in East Arnhem Land (each of about 50-100 people) where telehealth has been implemented for specialist appointments only - this figure excludes the costs of evacuations. We have also demonstrated savings in reduction of evacuations. These communities have a GP based in Sydney (formally based in East Arnhem Land) who provides services via phone and video conferencing but is unable to obtain Medicare item numbers for many of his services. Only 3 of these 12 Laynhapuy Communities have access to video conferencing for telehealth. We desperately need more Medicare item numbers for telehealth, but we also need to expand access to telehealth (ie internet and video conferencing tools) for very remote areas, including for remote cattle stations and fishers.