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New MBS items to improve regional & rural access to primary healthcare services

The Department of Health announced earlier this week the details of 12 new telehealth item numbers on the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS).  From November 1, 2019 residents in rural and regional Australia will be able to access GP and allied health professional consultations through video conferencing with no out-of-pocket expense. Patients living in Modified Monash Model (MMM) areas 6 and 7 will be eligible for the new service.

Telehealth involves the use of digital information and communication technologies to deliver health care remotely, beyond traditional health facilities. Video-conferencing is one of the main ways to connect regional and remote patients with health services. The new telehealth MBS items require both audio and video components to the telehealth service, noting the service cannot be provided by telephone alone.

The new MBS items will save rural and regional patients from having to travel to their nearest major city to see a specialist, ensuring they have access to timely, primary care. These new MBS items will come as welcome news for the drought stricken, time- poor farmers.

President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), Dr Adam Coltzau, Queensland, told Medical Republic, “Unfortunately, there is a cohort of patients, sometimes with a chronic disease such as diabetes, pre-dialysis chronic kidney disease, or increasingly depression or other mental health concerns, in our most remote locations who just don’t travel the sometimes hundreds of kilometres to see their GP on a regular basis.

“And this is exactly the patient we were hoping to target with these item numbers,” said Dr Coltzau.

To be eligible for the new telehealth service, a patient must:

  • Reside in an MMM 6 or 7 area;
  • Have received three face-to-face professional attendances in the preceding 12 months from the practitioner who will provide the telehealth service; and
  • At the time of the consultation, be at least 15 kilometres by road from the practitioner.

Key stakeholders, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) were all consulted on amends to the MBS.

In September this year, VIVA! Communications teamed with the Australasian College of Dermatologists (ACD) to urge rural and regional residents to seek timely medical advice for their skin health. ACD is a strong advocate for the use of teledermatology and telehealth, not only to improve patient access to healthcare, but also as a successful mechanism to train and educate specialist dermatologists and registrars.

The full item descriptor(s) and information on other changes to the MBS can be found at www.mbsonline.gov.au. To subscribe to further MBS updates, visit MBS Online and click ‘Subscribe’.

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