The changes forced upon us during the COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly impacted many aspects of our lives. However, many businesses have used this challenging time to be innovative - the same can be said for our health professionals.
Telehealth is undoubtedly one of those initiatives that have helped people access health professionals during lockdown.
In March, the federal government expanded the Medicare-funded telehealth services, along with providing extra incentives to GPs.
At the time it was dubbed a "key weapon" in the fight against COVID-19. It was also something many health practitioners had been calling for, for years. But with funding arrangements due to expire in September, there are now renewed calls for the government to make the COVID-19 telehealth reforms a permanent part of our health system. And there is a strong case for it.
Take Launceston's Northern Suburbs as an example of how telehealth can benefit a demographic with some of the state's worst health outcomes, but with limited to no access to bulk billing doctors.
Last year Mowbray Medical confirmed it was turning away more than 20 patients a day and was no longer able to offer mixed billing as the result of what it claimed had been a "persistent lack of government support". It is one of only two health centres servicing the area. But for the past two months, access to doctors and prescriptions have become cheaper and easier. Patients who would normally have paid for a service, have been able to be bulk billed. Those who would normally be unable to get to a doctor, have been able to access services over the phone. Bass Liberal MHR Bridget Archer says she would support any plan to continue telehealth services long-term.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is also said to be "actively considering" how it can be continued beyond the existing interim arrangements. Moving forward it would be a shame to see the positive changes that have come out of this dark time completely wasted. Now is not the time to take two steps back when we have made a significant step forward for our communities.