GOOD HEALTH: Patients and doctors in the Northern Rivers will benefit from increased access to psychologists via video consultations thanks to smart technology.
GOOD HEALTH: Patients and doctors in the Northern Rivers will benefit from increased access to psychologists via video consultations thanks to smart technology. Supplied

Northern Rivers residents to benefit from tele-psychology

PATIENTS and doctors in the Northern Rivers will benefit from increased access to psychologists via video consultations thanks to smart technology.

On Wednesday the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) welcomed news the Federal Government will increase access for rural and remote Australians to Medicare-rebated psychological care delivered via video consultations.

RDAA President, Dr Ewen McPhee said the news from the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Senator Fiona Nash and Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt MP, will greatly benefit country residents.

"It not only means our GPs practices and patients are getting the support of psychologists, our doctors are too and it's a really positive aspect," he said.

"It not only supports the patients, it gives support to doctors in the bush."

Dr McPhee said in the wake of the recent flood disaster delivered by ex-cyclone Debbie, he expected there would be a big call on the service.

He said patients interested in using this service should still go through the route of peaking with their GP who can refer them on.

The Northern Rivers has areas located in the is located in the second to fifth tiers of the Modified Monash Model - a recently developed geographical classification system, using up-to-date population data, which the Government can use to better address the maldistribution of medical services across Australia - so most residents are able to access this new service.

Dr McPhee said under a change in the telehealth item number for psychology services, psychologists will be able to utilise a Medicare rebated item for video consultations, which previously has only been available to general practitioners.

"The change will help to significantly improve access to tele-psychology services for many rural and remote Australians," he said.

"Under the change, psychologists will be able to deliver up to seven of the currently available 10 face-to-face sessions accessed through a general practitioner, to be recognised as Medicare rebated items via video conferencing."

He said expanding the availability through Medicare for psychology services via video-conferencing is a great step forward in making psychological care much more accessible for those living in the bush, and the Government should be commended.

"It reflects the need for flexibility in the delivery of psychological care and other healthcare services in country Australia, to enable people living in rural and remote communities to access an increased range of health services closer to home.

"It also recognises the immense importance of having a multidisciplinary, team-based approach in providing healthcare in the bush - one that includes both doctors and other health professionals like psychologists. Increasing the use of rebated telehealth services for psychological care should significantly reduce the waiting time for rural and remote patients in accessing this important care."

Dr McPhee said in many rural and remote communities, services by visiting psychologists are often only available on a weekly, or sometimes even monthly, basis.

"And in other communities, the waiting time to see a local psychologist can be enormously long. For some communities, there is no local or visiting psychology service available at all," he said.

"Rural patients who currently have to travel long distances to access these services face-to-face will now have the benefit of accessing this care close to home via a video consult."

This means early intervention in mental healthcare can assist a patient to get better more quickly, he added.

"And given the prevalence of mental health issues in the bush is significantly higher than in the cities, it is great to see the Government exploring flexible models and opportunities to provide increased access to psychology services for rural and remote patients.

"It demonstrates that the Government is genuinely committed to improving the health outcomes of people living in country Australia.

"It also builds on the Government's election commitment to create the role of a National Rural Health Commissioner, and to prioritise the rollout of a National Rural Generalist Program to deliver the next generation of doctors with advanced skills - including in mental healthcare - to rural and remote communities."  

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