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Telehealth and equitable access to health care

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To the Editor: I write in protest about the short-sighted decision of the Australian Government to remove outer metropolitan areas from eligibility for Medicare rebates for telehealth from 1 January 2013. Since then, there has been a 29% drop in the number of video consultations, with 9476 recorded from 1 January to 28 February 2013, compared with 13 311 from 1 November to 31 December 2012.1

Telehealth is usually proposed as a tool suitable for the rural and remote locations of Australia, providing lower costs, increased access to specialists, improved collaboration, increased quality of local service and greater access to professional development.2 Yet barriers to care are more than geographical; they can be temporal, financial and cultural.3 In particular, the health care system remains inequitable while patients with disabilities face a range of barriers in achieving access.4 Telehealth assists in overcoming these barriers, enabling improved access to care in urban areas.5

We instituted a telehealth service in psychiatry and pain management to a general practice…