Australia continues to rapidly integrate telehealth as an accepted and much desired element of health care delivery, in particular within the mental health space. Recent activity by the Federal Government has signalled continued growth in this area.
Notably, the House Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention has now released its final report into this critical and complex issue (the Report). In addition to the Report, the Australian Federal Government has also recently commenced a period of consultation on its Primary Health Care Plan 10 Year Plan, noting the acceleration of telehealth’s role in the usual course of health care in Australia.
Among other things, the Report dedicates an entire chapter to virtual mental health care, with the authors commenting that “Various stakeholders and reports have identified the importance of expanding telehealth and digital mental health to improve treatment access and navigation, bridge service gaps, and function as a key component of a national mental health system."
The Report’s virtual mental health care recommendations outlined below (including those focusing on increased regulation such as Recommendation 6) highlight the increasingly prominent position that telehealth is pitched to play in improving access to and delivery of mental health care to Australians.
- Recommendation 6 - published in November 2020, the Report recommends that compliance with the National Safety and Quality Digital Mental Health Standards become mandatory for all digital mental health service providers who receive Commonwealth funding;
- Recommendation 7 – the next National Digital Health Strategy (2022-27) should explicitly address barriers to digital access, and includes specific actions for reducing the ‘digital divide’;
- Recommendation 8 – the Australian Government should commit ongoing funding for digital mental health research, considering the increased prevalence of mental health problems and rapid expansion of virtual mental health care; and
- Recommendation 9 – the Australian Government should embed and expand virtual mental health care in the next National Digital Health Strategy (2022-27).
Focusing on safety standards and investment priorities, the Report’s virtual care recommendations sit against the background of increasing investment in mental health by the Federal Government. For example, in the 2021-2022 Budget, the government committed AUD $111.2 million to digital and telehealth services for mental health.
The uptake in the use of telehealth during the pandemic, facilitated by way of both Government funding and corporate investment, is likely to continue in the coming post-COVID era, with clinicians and patients transitioning away from the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ approach to healthcare, and instead turning to the vast array of services now more widely available through virtual care.
Are you interested in operating telehealth services in global markets? Our Global Telehealth Guide interactive website https://www.dlapiperintelligence.com/telehealth/ enables users to navigate and compare the legal and regulatory summaries between countries across five continents.
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