From today, people living in rural and remote regions of Australia will get improved access to psychological services, under a new telehealth initiative.
A major barrier to rural residents accessing vital mental health treatment will be removed with the introduction of a new Medicare rebate for online videoconferencing mental health consultations with psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.
Under the new expanded arrangements of the Better Access program, up to seven of the ten sessions currently available through Medicare mental health plans will be available via telehealth.
One of the first four sessions will be face-to-face to help build a personal connection with the treating mental health professional.
Many rural people will now have an easier way to receive appropriate care as a result.
From 1 November 2017, people in rural and regional Australia will be able to claim a Medicare rebate for timely and convenient online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists and other allied mental health professionals.
This new initiative significantly reduces the inconvenience, time and expense of having to travel to larger regional centres or major cities for Better Access psychological services.
Allied mental health professionals will be able to connect sooner with their rural and remote patients in need of psychological services.
This initiative will cost $9.1 million over four years from 2017–18 to 2020–21.
The demand for psychological services in rural and regional Australia is growing – but a key barrier to accessing services is the scarcity of allied mental health professionals in some areas.
The Medicare psychological services via telehealth will be available for patients living in Modified Monash Model regions four to seven, which cover smaller country towns and remote and very remote locations.
This will ensure that the services go to areas with the biggest access challenges, not to larger regional centres that are more likely to have resident psychologists and other allied mental health professionals.
We know that people living in rural and regional areas often have reduced access to health care.
They have to travel greater distances to receive medical services, experience higher rates of ill health, and face higher death, illness and disease risk factors than people living in major cities.
The Coalition Government is committed to bridging the city–country divide in providing access to health services around this nation.
People interested in using telehealth psychological services are encouraged to speak to their GP.
People can check if they are in an eligible rural or remote location by entering their address or general location on the Doctor Connect website.