The long drive to Dubbo to see a psychologist may be coming to an end for mentally-unwell residents of rural and remote Western NSW.
The federal government has announced the November 1 introduction of a Medicare rebate for online videoconferencing consultations with psychologists for patients in “small country towns, remote and very remote Australia”.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has welcomed the rebate that its executive manager of professional practice Louise Roufeil says will “pick up most areas around Dubbo”. “Now GPs are going to be able to say to their patients in small country towns ‘You won’t have to drive to Dubbo, Bathurst or Orange to see a psychologist’,” she told the Daily Liberal. Ms Roufeil said fewer psychologists, stigma and stoicism were barriers in the bush to treatment of a range of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. “But things are improving and GPs these days are very well informed about accessing psychological treatment when people need it,” she said.
Ms Roufeil said patients eligible for the rebate must live in the Modified Monash Model regions four to seven, “a categorisation system GPs know very well”. She suggests Western NSW GPs will be telling their patients if they are eligible for the rebate. “I would expect that the (Western NSW) Primary Health Network will also make clear which towns are in and which aren’t,” Ms Roufeil said.
APS president Anthony Cichello said the telehealth option would “bolster the existing psychology workforce in rural and remote Australia”. “It will substantially assist the current workforce to meet the needs of people living outside urban regions, and attract more psychologists to work in regional Australia,” he said.
Ms Roufeil said psychology businesses in the bush were “often not financially viable”. Telehealth could increase the workloads and incomes of small-town psychologists by allowing them to treat people in “more outlying areas, she said. Details on how psychological services will be delivered through telehealth are yet to be announced.