Approximately 7 million Australians live regionally, rurally or remotely. That’s nearly a third of the population. For people with disabilities, living outside of metropolitan and urban environments presents some unique challenges. Chief among those challenges is accessing services and supports. But Telehealth is one way that health services and supports can be made accessible.
What is Telehealth?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Telehealth has a long history, one that predates the technology we commonly use today. The earliest mentions of telehealth or telemedicine (which literally mean ‘healing from a distance’) can be found in the mid-1800s. While it likely looked very different in the 19th century, what we understand Telehealth to be today can be traced to the 1960s and 1970s. But what is it?
WHO defines Telehealth as:
“The delivery of healthcare services, where distance is a critical factor, by all healthcare professionals using information and communication technologies for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of healthcare providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.”
Basically, Telehealth is the provision of health services and supports and education via telecommunications and virtual technology. Video conferencing is one of the main technologies used.
How can Telehealth help?
In many parts of Australia, a visit to a GP, specialist or allied health professional can involve hours spent in the car or time-consuming and stressful trips on public transport. For some, access to health services is made difficult by illness or mobility.
By providing access to health services and supports via telecommunications and virtual technology, Telehealth provides a ladder to scale the access challenges posed by distance, illness or mobility. By doing so, it can improve health outcomes.
Medicare and Telehealth
Medicare does provide some rebates for Telehealth services in eligible areas. Eligible areas include remote, rural and regional areas in Australia. Medicare rebates may also be available to patients in eligible residential aged care facilities and Aboriginal Medical Services.
For more information about Medicare, contact the Depart of Human Services via email at [email protected]
More information on telehealth can also be found here.