Regional Australia has benefited from an increase in telehealth services since the start of the COVID pandemic

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This year I've been making more of an effort to be a regular blood or plasma donor. It's not something I'd rate as particularly noteworthy most of the time. That is until I started researching this week's article for Race to the Regions. That's when I realised that for those of us living on the east coast or within a few hours of a capital city it's yet another thing we take for granted.

For thousands of Australians the opportunity to donate blood doesn't exist because of where they live. Considering blood has a short shelf life there are many smaller hospitals in rural areas that simply don't have any in stock. Ever.

In April this year the NSW Parliament held an inquiry into "Health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote New South Wales". Details such as patients waiting hours for treatment, doctors and nurses getting burnt out from the demands of the job were all raised as the inquiry travelled across western NSW.

All serious issues that will not surprise long time residents of remote areas of Australia. What didn't get a mention were some of the benefits that have come out of COVID.

Since March 2020, medical practitioners have been able to bulk bill for healthcare provided via telehealth services. Telehealth can have a broad meaning, from a literal phone call consult with your GP or a nurse practitioner all the way to a video conference with a specialist to discuss more serious medical conditions.

The current federal government provisions are set to expire at the end of 2021. While it's easy to think of the use of telehealth as another way to fob off regional Australians with a lesser form of care, for doctors, it's been a boon.

Dr Joseph Lawler is a specialist in Gastroenterology and Hepatology. For him, instead of reducing his ability for patient care, telehealth now allows him to see more patients across western NSW without having to worry about current COVID restrictions.

Of course, telehealth is not the answer to all the problems facing regional areas, but it certainly has the ability to save time for anyone wanting a simple consult or to receive test results without having to take a morning off work to attend a surgery in person.

Join us for a conversation looking at the innovation occurring in the rural healthcare sector as regional universities explore ways to improve health outcomes and how a pragmatic response to COVID has had a positive impact on choice and access for all Australians.

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