From Friday, Medicare will provide doctors with funding for holding video-conference appointments with customers in rural, regional and outer metropolitan areas.
The idea is that the user goes to a GP or other health centre (for example, nursing homes) to have a conference with a specialist who is farther away than the patient would like to travel.
As part of a $620 million initiative, the doctors who decide to do telehealth consultations in 2011/12 get a $6000 one-off payment to fund set-up costs. However, this amount drops to $4800 in 2012/13, $3900 in the next year and $3300 the year after that.
Specialists and GPs receive extra money from Medicare for each session, although that gets scaled down, too, as the years go on. I guess the idea is that by the time that the doctors find themselves in the last year, where funding is so much less, they'll be used to the system, and using it anyway.
I think it's a great idea, as it's long been an issue that specialists tend to congregate in the big smoke and not settle down in rural areas, meaning that people who live out in the country have to travel long distances to see people for their health needs. As many find it hard to get away, or don't have the money, this can lead to people just not getting their care.
But, quite frankly, I don't really understand why almost every other profession is willingly taking up technology of its own accord, while doctors need to be dragged kicking and screaming all the way.
What set me off was the report in The Australian this morning, reminding us that the telehealth scheme will be coming in on 1 July. About halfway down the article, it said that the Australian Medical Association had warned that the "scheme could be hampered as many specialists do not use computers".
Strike me down and call me Bill.
Seriously. They don't use computers?
Now, I have doctors in the family, and I know the whole "IT is the devil" mentality is one that many practitioners have. A lot of the time it's to do with issues with privacy. But even the doctors need to move with the times. Patients are screaming for modern, convenient service. And that should mean that doctors need to adopt computers.
I personally had a run in, of the medical variety, recently, and found myself really annoyed that I kept having to make appointments so that the specialist could tell me what my results were. Couldn't I have had the option of getting my results via some sort of technology? I don't appreciate paying over $100 for a 10-minute appointment.
Basically, my point is that, despite the fact that many specialists charge ridiculous fees and seem to be very profitable small private businesses, they are doing very, very well out of this government initiative — they are being provided with funding perks to get themselves out of the stone age that other small businesses would love to have. So I hope that they take it up and don't turn their nose up at these new fandangled telehealth things. Because that would be inexcusable.