COVID-19: Government's new telehealth services welcomed in western NSW

The federal government's announcement that it would be expanding Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians during COVID-19, has been welcomed by a western NSW practice.

To help reduce the risk of exposure and support those self-isolating, the government announced new temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items to allow health professionals to provide telehealth services in March.

Services will include GP services, nurse practitioners, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities, children with autism, and after-hours consultations.

The director of the the Macquarie Health Collective, who services patients from western NSW, welcomed the new initiative.

"It means that we don't have to let go of health care, we can still take care of ourselves," MHC director and psychologist Tanya Forster said.

"People are anxious and don't want to leave their house, or go out in public but the government are allowing us to have health care sessions via telehealth so people can do it form the comfort of their own home."

The psychologist said it had forced practices like Macquarie Health Collective to be innovative and to figure our new ways to practice health care.

While the practice had always previously provided telehealth with some services, having it for all sessions was something new.

"Our GPs have learnt to be creative and provide support that patients need, whether that's via the phone or a tele-conference," Ms Forster said.

"I think it's an exciting thing for healthcare. While I never want to have to go through COVID-19 again, it's forcing us as health care providers, outside of our comfort zone.

"It's forcing us to learn new skills and I wonder what healthcare may look like on the other side because it will revolutionise the way that we practice."

The Macquarie Health Collective director said this could mean some really positive things for western NSW.

"In many communities they don't have access to health care to the same degree in a metropolitan area and if COVID has forced us to use technology to provide healthcare then all of these families living in western NSW should be able to access quality healthcare from now on in a much more creative way," Ms Forster said.

In a joint media release, Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Principle Meidcal Advisor Professor Michael Kidd said Australia's primary health workers are on the frontline in leading the fight against this pandemic.

"Services via telehealth will limit unnecessary exposure of patients and health professionals to COVID-19, wherever treatment can be safely delivered by phone or videoconferencing," the statement read.

"This will take pressure off hospitals and emergency departments. Whole of population telehealth will allow people to access essential health services in their home and will support self-isolation and quarantine policies to reduce risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19.

"It will also help vulnerable doctors to continue to deliver services to their patients."

The new medical arrangements commence on March 30 and will be in place until September, 30, 2020, when they will be reviewed.