The Gillard Government has promised $392.3 million in new online health initiatives as a central platform of its campaign launch in Brisbane on Monday 16 August, ahead of the Saturday 21 Federal Election.
In a speech to Labor’s party-faithful Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a number of measures she said exemplified “the future of healthcare” and are aimed at delivering better health services to regional, rural and outer-metropolitan areas.
The $392.3 million package includes:
- $250.5 million of funding for Medicare rebates available to patients in rural, remote and outer-metropolitan areas for online consultations with health professionals;
- $56.8 million to provide GPs and other medical practitioners, including specialists, with financial incentives to offer online and electronic services;
- $50 million for an expansion of the GP after-hours helpline into an online capacity including online triage, basic medical advice and videoconferencing; and
- $35 million to support training and supervision for health professionals using new digital technologies.
Ms Gillard also emphasised the role of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in facilitating these new e-health initiatives and government service delivery more broadly. “We understand this technology (NBN) is about transforming our economy so we’ve got a fair share of the jobs of the future. We also understand this technology is about transforming how we deliver health care,” she said.
The Government’s announcement has been warmly received by health professionals. In a statement posted half an hour after Ms Gillard’s address, Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Andrew Pesce said his organisation welcomes Labor’s commitment to ‘telemedicine’.
“This is a recognition of the need to embrace communications technology to modernise our health system. It will allow doctors to overcome the tyranny of distance when providing care and advice for patients in rural and remote Australia,” Dr Pesce said.
“Ongoing support for telemedicine services, through Medicare patient rebates and support for IT infrastructure and training, will ensure that local doctors can obtain specialist input for the ongoing care and management of their patients”.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) has also come out in support of the announcement. Immediate past-President Dr Peter Rischbieth said in a statement that “it is great to see the Gillard Government announcing measures that will support the further rollout of tele-health technology for rural and remote Australians.
“While this technology should never be seen as a replacement for doctors and other health professionals in country communities, it does provide a very useful additional tool in enabling diagnosis and follow-up for a range of conditions, saving patients the time and cost of travelling what can be thousands of kilometres to see a specialist,” he said.
The announcement also follows a number of online health initiatives slated for the second-term of the Labor Government if it is re-elected.
In July 2010 Health Minister Nicola Roxon outlined a timeline for e-health initiatives in which she cited electronic health records, healthcare identifiers, and after-hours GP telephone services as key government health reform priorities.
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