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Telehealth boost for rural and remote psychology services

Australian Psychological Society (APS) president A
Photo: Australian Psychological Society (APS) president Anthony Cichello
A new Medicare rebate for online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists will provide people living in rural and remote areas of Australia with the same psychological access as those living in the nation’s major cities.

The Federal Government has unveiled a new telehealth initiative, which will be funded in the upcoming Federal Budget at a cost of $9 million over four years between 2017-18 and 2020-21.

From November 1, people living in rural and regional Australia will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for up to seven of the 10 rebatable mental health sessions for telehealth consults.

The telehealth boost will enable patients to remain in their own homes, reducing the time and costs of transportation to larger regional centres or cities for sessions with their psychologist.

Australian Psychological Society (APS) president Anthony Cichello said the move will provide greater equity of access to evidence-based psychological care for Australians living in small country towns, remote and very remote Australia.
“The number of people with mental health and behavioural problems, and high psychological distress is roughly the same regardless of where people live in Australia,” he said.

“But people living in rural and remote regions have far greater difficulty accessing effective psychological treatment than those living in cities.”

Mr Cichello said the announcement will also bolster the existing psychology workforce in rural and remote Australia.

“It will substantially assist the current workforce to meet the needs of people living outside urban regions, and attract more psychologists to work in regional Australia.”

A joint announcement from Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for Regional Communities Fiona Nash states the demand for psychological services in rural and regional parts of the country is growing but a key barrier to accessing services is the lack of local mental health professionals.

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,” the Ministers said in a statement.

“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.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords