Telehealth future in doubt

The future of telehealth remains uncertain, with psychologists and mental healthcare professionals unable to book appointments for their clients post 31 March.

The Federal Health Minister announced last November that telehealth would become a permanent part of the Medicare system however the Australian Association of Psychologists (AAPi) says telehealth item numbers are still due to expire on 31 March 2021.

AAPi Executive Director Tegan Carrison said the uncertainty of this program with its looming end date continued to put a huge strain on the mental health of Australians, which was already suffering as a result of the pandemic.

“In addition, it’s placing added stress on an already overwrought and pressurised workforce of psychologists, and other mental health professionals, who are unable to plan their diaries and reassure their clients of continued telehealth consultations,” she said.

“The government seems unwilling to put in the legislative effort required to make telehealth a truly permanent offering.”

A survey of AAPi members in October 2020 found that 91 percent of psychologists supported telehealth being made permanent.

“Although telehealth became necessary as a result of the pandemic, it has proven to be life changing for many clients,” Ms Carrison said.

“It means that finding an available registered psychologist who meets your needs is no longer limited by location, and those who struggle to see a psychologist in person, such as single mums with young children, are able to more easily access necessary support.

“For people with physical limitations or compromised immune systems, who would have otherwise struggled to see their psychologist in person, telehealth has ensured ongoing treatment and support.

“The Health Minister needs to explain to the Australian people why he continues to place this undue stress on the population and mental health care professionals by refusing to make telehealth permanent.

“Psychologists need to be able to make appointments now for April and beyond, particularly for clients who need a schedule of sessions. And Australians struggling with their mental health need to be reassured that they will be able to access regular sessions with their psychologist, regardless of their location.”

Download a PDF copy here