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Telehealth help for poor | The West Australian

A new program to recruit Perth specialists to provide bulk-billed tele-services to Kalgoorlie is expected to give those from low socio-economic backgrounds equitable access to health care.

The telehealth service will run out of Kalgoorlie Medical Imaging’s new office on Maritana Street, with at least a dozen Perth specialists already on board.

KMI director Peter Tually said the program was intended to support existing services to give marginalised members of the Kalgoorlie community a choice of local access to private specialist care in a culturally appropriate environment.

He said the program was a social rather than a commercial enterprise, with support from a modest Federal Government grant and Medicare-rebatable telehealth services making it possible.

He said he was also reaching out to local mining companies about the possibility of supporting the program.

Mr Tually said the specialists he had approached for the project had shown a “real willingness to help”, suggesting strong support for the initiative.

“These are good-hearted doctors who want to help people who can’t get access to a high standard of care in a timely manner,” he said.

“The idea is to make their level of care comparable to if they lived in Peppermint Grove or another Perth suburb.

“We want to support and work in harmony with the services that are already in place. There wouldn’t be any disruption to the normal pattern of referral from general practitioner to specialist, and the GP remains the primary care giver.

“But we want waiting times to drop and we don’t want someone’s bank balance to be an inhibitor to them receiving important specialist care.”

Mr Tually said geography was the “silent killer” in Australia and rural communities continued to suffer the highest rates of mortality and morbidity for many diseases.

He said Kalgoorlie-Boulder was a stereotypical regional town, with a significant lack of both primary and specialist care services and diagnostic testing.

“Presently, the town has the lowest patient to GP ratio in decades and specialists in respiratory and gastrointestinal medicine no longer visit the region,” he said.

He said privately funded Kalgoorlie-Boulder residents who required specialist care could elect to access a telehealth consultation via their GP, at a cost, or travel to Perth to see the specialist of their choice — which also carried a significant cost associated with travel.

“The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that in 2016-17 one out of every 14 people who needed to see a specialist miss out because of cost relating to travel and/or medical fees,” he said.

“It’s rare that indigenous Australians or those from lower socio-economic backgrounds gain access to private specialist consultations.”

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