Gillard promises video doctors with NBN

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Gillard promises video doctors with NBN

GP after-hours helpline to launch in July 2012.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pledged $392.3 million to supporting online medical consultations and an after-hours General Practitioner (GP) videoconferencing service.

At the Australian Labor Party's (ALP) campaign launch in Brisbane on Monday, Gillard described future electronic health services that would rely on the National Broadband Network (NBN).

She pledged $250.5 million to making Medicare rebates available for online consultations in rural, regional and outer suburban communities from 1 July 2011.

A further $56.8 million would be spent on incentivising GPs and specialists to deliver online services, and $35 million would be spent on training and supervising health professionals online.

The ALP pledged $50 million to expanding its existing, phone-in 'GP After-hours Helpline' to include videoconferencing, so practitioners could provide triage and basic medical advice online.

The Helpline would be available from 1 July 2012, "through the power of the internet", Gillard said at the campaign launch.

"Of course, this can't happen ... if we don't have the broadband," she said.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) welcomed Gillard's e-Health commitments, noting that they would foster a competitive environment in the local ICT industry.

Last week, the Association published an open letter urging political parties to discuss the "high-level issue" of the digital economy, rather than getting "bogged down" in filtering and broadband technology debates.

"It is clear that comprehensive digital infrastructure will deliver very real returns to all Australians," said AIIA CEO Ian Birks following Gillard's Monday announcement.

"To date, too much of the public discussion has focused on issues such as speed and other technical aspects of competing broadband plans."

"The real issues are what that capacity will deliver to the bottom line of our economy and our communities. It's very important that we elevate the current conversation on broadband needs to this level."

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) also welcomed the ALP's $392.3 million commitment, although it called for more details about how it would be implemented.

RACGP president Chris Mitchell said the move was "innovative and exciting", adding that patients were exposed to "unnecessary risks" without e-Health and improvements in medical information management systems.

"The College has consistently lobbied for investment in e-health and for greater flexibility in the delivery of consultations, including telephone medicine and video conferencing," he said.

"Online, video and tele-medicine are not substitutes for face-to-face contact; however, they have the capacity to save time for patients while supporting GPs to provide high-quality care to the local communities that they serve."

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