Virtual medical appointments will become a permanent feature of Australia’s health system as part of a $308.6 million spend.
Of that, $106 million will be spent over four years to entrench what was a temporary measure brought in to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another $58.8 million will be used to extend rebates for mental health care through the Better Access scheme until December 2022.
Medicare will get a $77 million boost mainly targeted at new tests and treatments, while $25.6 million will be spent on Australia’s primary healthcare COVID-19 response.
A new Medicare benefit is being brought in for health professionals to conduct vaccine suitability assessments at a patient’s residence without a GP present.
It aims to ensure people living in aged or disability care can receive a vaccine or booster dose without needing to leave home.
An extra $41.2 million will also be spent on making it easier for rural and regional areas facing doctor shortages to recruit GPs trained overseas.
“Telehealth, rapid antigen testing, electronic prescriptions, home medicine delivery – they’re all about taking pressure off the hospitals, and supporting patients and providing access,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners welcomed the move to make telehealth permanent.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic telehealth has proven to be a valuable complement to face-to-face care – it increased access to care for patients in need and no doubt saved lives,” president Karen Price said.
Dr Price also labelled fixing regional and rural Australia’s GP shortage a top priority.
“Incentivising GPs in training to live and work outside of metropolitan areas can help improve access to high quality care for communities in need,” she said.