Recent changes to telehealth services have raised oncerns from many within the medical profession, particularly in relation to sexual and reproductive health.

As of July 20, Patients will now no longer be able to access the Medicare-subsidised telephone and video appointments if they do not already have an existing relationship with that medical practice or healthcare provider. The change is aimed at linking patients to ongoing care from a regular GP or medical practice. According to some experts though this will discriminate against those whom are going to different health service providers, even out of necessity.

The proposed changes will absolutely impact the way people are able access sexual health services. GPs play a pivotal role in providing people access to HIV and STI screening throughout NSW,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill. Many people may be accessing these services through their local GP, particularly in rural and regional areas where sexual health services are limited and may be some distance away.

As a response to COVID-19, we have seen a reduction in the number of sexual health services provided and currently in NSW, there are limited options for asymptomatic people to access HIV and STI screening.

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 Telehealth allows clinical services to be offered remotely, allowing patients crucial medical care via telephone and electronic services. With COVID-19 forcing many to self-isolate in recent months, it has provided necessary care giving across this time.

Though many have praised the federal government for how quickly telehealth was implemented during the pandemic, it’s future past September 30 still remains uncertain.

We have seen greater attendance rates using telehealth and we know that telehealth also helps address issues of inequity in accessing inclusive health services,” explained Parkhill. “These increased attendance rates suggest that it is an acceptable mode of support and the accessibility of it is removing potential barriers such as the need to travel, concerns over privacy and time and energy saved without the need to commute.

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 “COVID has presented a unique opportunity for the world to become more technologically literature and confident. For the not-for-profit sector it has supercharged a change in management processes with staff, clients and community all on the same change journey out of necessity. While it must be recognised this is not a preferred option for all, in particular those without access to technology or who have privacy and safety concerns if living with others, for the vast majority of ACON clients they have communicated the benefits and appreciation of the telehealth option.

In a statement, a spokesperson from for the Minister for Health said the Government would review telehealth items prior to September 30. 

“The Minister for Health intends for telehealth to be a positive legacy of this crisis and is engaged with the medical community in planning a long-term future for telehealth.”

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