As part of the COVID-19 response, the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) was extended to support the wide-scale provision of health care by telehealth, with subsequent amendments to restrict arrangements in general practice to providers who have an existing and continuous relationship with the patient. Private health insurers also agreed to provide benefits for teleconsultations.
With Australians more open to using technology in health care, this has led to optimism across the sector that there will be a willingness to embrace these technologies in care to achieve more long-term health care reform.
However, a forward-looking approach to virtual health care would involve planning to embrace the opportunities which may be available, for example, through remote monitoring, data-driven quality improvement, artificial intelligence and other innovations, to create new models of care. While the technology may have been available for decades, effective and sustainable implementation will require sector-wide attention to the following areas.
- Patient-centredness, including co-design with patients, and measuring what matters to patients;
- Equity, including proactive efforts to ensure affordability, equitable access to technology and digital literacy;
- Cross-sector leadership and governance, across jurisdictions and the primary and acute care sectors, and in partnership with industry and researchers;
- Digitally-capable health workforce development, prioritising team-based care and new roles needed to optimise integration of technology into health care;
- Interoperability, standards and quality assured technology; and
- Funding for reforms, including better use of data and evaluation.