(Australian Associated Press)
Australians will be able to bulk-bill phone or video hook ups with their doctors from next week as health authorities work to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
Telehealth services will be available to the entire population, allowing all Australians to consult remotely with general practitioners, specialists, and mental health and allied health professionals.
“That is an extremely important development,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday.
“Very important to stress, however, that a very large proportion of GP services of course require face-to-face treatment.”
Currently only vulnerable Australians, such as older people or those with compromised immune systems, are eligible to bulk-bill Telehealth.
“This has been one of the most significant changes we’ve seen in Australian general practice in my working lifetime of 35 years,” Australia’s Principal Medical Adviser Michael Kidd said.
Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Rachel David said private health funds were working to expand consultations for mental health services.
Dr David also called on health funds to give relief to members experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic.
The federal government has expanded telehealth services to allow vulnerable GPs to provide Telehealth services from home.
Meanwhile a study shows the one in three Australians with chronic respiratory conditions may suffer worse symptoms than others hit by the coronavirus.
This includes the estimated 80 per cent of people with lung disease who may be undiagnosed.
GenesisCare respiratory physician Dr Scott Claxton warned it might be too late to diagnose respiratory conditions as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold.
Dr Claxton said people would need a face-to-face consult with a lung specialist as well as a lung function test, which risks spreading the virus.
“We may have missed the boat a bit on picking people up now,” he told AAP on Tuesday.
“But it’s kind of the salient lesson going into the future, we need to have things prepared, we need to make sure that people who have illnesses have them sorted out.”
He said smokers were the most likely to develop a lung disease, with people finding themselves more breathless than usual.
But Dr Claxton said lung disease didn’t mean people would be more likely to catch the coronavirus.
The paper from University College London researchers on Tuesday showed those with lung disease who caught the coronavirus were six times more likely to develop severe symptoms.
It also found that they were nearly 18 times more likely to need intensive care.