‘Skipped a decade’: Tele-health to become permanent after success during pandemic

Widespread tele-health will become a permanent part of Australian healthcare, Health Minister Greg Hunt said as he confirmed the government is exploring how to help Australians who are overseas access COVID-19 vaccinations before they return to the country.

Online and phone consultations were introduced as a temporary measure at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, more than 40 million sessions had been conducted, Mr Hunt said on Friday.

Tele-health will become a permanent part of the healthcare system.Credit:iStock

"One thing that has come from COVID is the fact that we have skipped a decade and jumped from 2030 to 2020 for the delivery of tele-health for all Australians – universal whole-population tele-health – and it will now be permanent," he said.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said the organisation had been working with the government for months on how to make what was initially a temporary model permanent.

"This will represent the biggest reform to Medicare since its introduction," he said. "And it'll transform healthcare in this country for many, many years to come."

Tele-health consultations had been "life-changing" for many people, he said, but did not replace the importance of face-to-face care.

"We do though want to support the normal model of good patient care where patients go to their family doctor they get looked after, and whether that occurs in the clinic or whether it occurs over the telephone or over a video conference shouldn't actually matter," Dr Khorshid said.

The permanent tele-health system was still being fine-tuned, he said.

Mr Hunt also said the government was still considering making unvaccinated people quarantine but allowing vaccinated people in without a two-week stint in a hotel.

"We won't be imposing a requirement that people are vaccinated to come into Australia but it's likely that we will say that either you quarantine, or if you've got a vaccine that's verified, you don’t have to quarantine," he said.



Once vaccines were available, the government would encourage Australians who were overseas to get vaccinated before they returned to the country.

"We'll also be considering ways in which we might be able to assist, whether that's through reciprocal arrangements, access to private markets or, in some circumstances, we might be able to provide verified vaccines from Australia," Mr Hunt said.

The Health Minister said news that pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca would conduct new trials of its vaccine in the United States was simply "part of the expected process" and would not affect Australia's vaccine rollout plan. The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is one of four for which Australia has advance purchasing agreements.

AstraZeneca plans to start additional COVID-19 vaccine trials using a lower dose for the first of the required two doses. The trial would validate earlier findings, after the company admitted lower doses were given in error to some of the phase three trial participants.

Mr Hunt said further trials did not change the fact the world was on track to having a "variety of safe and effective vaccines".

"Australia has been fortunate in our choices," he said. "We're on track to deliver first vaccines to our medical professionals, our aged care workers, and, subject to approvals, our elderly, beginning in March."

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