Call for Medicare to catch up, as the momentum of telehealth uptake grows

A telehealth system developed by the CSIRO’s Data 61 is fast-tracking the uptake of video consultations in Australia, with the platform now connecting 20,000 Australians with their healthcare practitioners.

Through partnerships with Health Team Australia, HealthKit and Ramsay Healthcare, Coviu is breaking down healthcare access problems in rural and regional Australia, improving the at-home management of chronic conditions, and providing the healthcare system with cost savings.

Such is its momentum, Coviu has grown its base of paying users by 470 per cent in the last year and has been commercialised in China.

Accessed through web browsers, a mobile app or integrated into practice management software, the emerging start-up was developed by Data61 in consultation with healthcare providers to tailor the platform to their needs.

It’s that collaboration that makes the platform far more healthcare-specific than standard video applications.

Telehealth is booming in countries such as the US, where an estimated 1.25 million online patient consultations occurred in 2016, according to the American Telemedicine Association. But Australia is playing catch-up.

“We are probably about five years behind the USA in this respect. Like all other countries, we are struggling to change our reimbursement schemes to accommodate new technology,” Pfeiffer said.

“Some of Medicare’s new activities in this space – particularly reimbursement for mental health consultations into rural and remote areas – have created lots of new trials and successes. We expect the healthcare industry as a whole to move forward with telehealth in Australia and mirror the dramatic growth seen in the USA and other countries in the next couple of years.”

With most patients currently paying out-of-pocket fees to for telehealth consultations, Pfeiffer called for changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule that would be reimbursed by savings throughout the healthcare system.

“Medicare already covers some telehealth services in the Medicare Benefits Schedule. We believe this is just the beginning and many more services should be covered. The goal is that by treating more people at home before they get badly sick, we reduce the number of hospital admissions and thus the overall cost to the healthcare system.”

by Lynne Minion – Healthcare IT News