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Telehealth Is A $620m Video Conferencing Black Hole

December 24, 2012 | Telepresence Options

301289-doctors.jpgTelehealth take-up is low among doctors and patients, despite government incentives. Picture: Thinkstock Source: Supplied


IT was lauded during the last election as a scheme to "modernise the health system" but the telehealth program is falling short of its targets.

The $620 million scheme that links doctors and patients via video-link was the centrepiece of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 2010 election campaign launch.

It was promised the scheme would give patients outside major cities access to a specialist, with a target of 495,000 consultations by July 2015.

However, doctors - who received $6000 taxpayer-funded incentives to equip their surgeries to provide services via videoconferencing - delivered an average of five services each in the first year.

Just 16,000 specialist services were provided in the initial 12 months of the program and GPs provided patient back-up at the other end for 9000 of these services.

Take-up was low even though specialists who take part in telehealth receive a 50 per cent loading on their usual Medicare rebate and GPs receive a 35 per cent bonus.

And it came despite the government spending 43 per cent more than it had budgeted for on incentives for doctors to join the scheme.

A surge in demand from doctors blew the spending out from a budgeted spend of $12.3 million to $17.6 million in the year to June 2012.

Yet the government spent just one-tenth of the projected $30 million on Medicare rebates for patients under the telehealth program in the first year.

After such low initial usage, more than 13,000 services need to be provided every month to reach the government's target of 495,000 consultations.

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