update Labor has pledged to spend $392 million to encourage online consultations via video-conferencing, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced at Labor's election launch in Brisbane today.
"Instead of being on the phone you can be on the broadband; instead of a voice at the other end of the line there will be a person in your lounge room and you will be able to talk to them about that health emergency at night from your own home," Gillard said.
The Prime Minister spoke about using the online video service to have a health practitioner diagnose a child with a rash late at night to determine whether to take them to the doctor.
"Imagine in your own home being able to get assistance and help through the power of the broadband through the power of the internet. Imagine being able to do that, not by talking over the phone, desperately trying to describe it over the phone. This is the future of healthcare," she said.
Gillard said such a scheme would not be possible should Opposition Leader Tony Abbott win office on 21 August, as he has promised to scrap both the GP after-hours hotline and the NBN.
The $392 million scheme is set to begin on the same day as the government's deadline to implement personal electronic health records.
At the launch, Gillard announced that $250 million of the funding will, from July next year, allow patients in regional, remote or outer suburban areas of Australia to claim a Medicare rebate to visit their local GP and see specialist doctors over video-conferencing rather than travelling long distances for check-ups.
Out of the $142 million remaining, $56.8 million will provide a financial incentive for doctors to participate in the delivery of online services, $50 million will go towards expanding an after-hours helpline to include video-conferencing capacity, and $35 million will go towards training and supervision for the technology.
"For Australians who live in rural and regional areas and outer suburban communities, where specialists are short, we will have a Medicare rebate which enables them to [claim] their consultation using the internet now and broadband tomorrow so they can see the health practitioner they need from the offices of their local general practitioner rather than moving town, moving city, moving state," she said.
Updated at 3:17pm, 16 August 2010: altered to reflect that the $392 million was not only intended for an extension of the after-hours hotline.