A virtual technology tool that has been in use in health circles in rural Queensland since 2011 is one of the strategies that has been funded by the federal government as it works to minimise the spread of coronavirus in Australia.
The announcement that bulk-billed telehealth consultations through Medicare for people in home isolation or quarantine are part of a response package was welcomed by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.
The initiative will also be available for non-coronavirus related consultations for people at higher risk including those aged over 70, people who have a chronic disease, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50, people who are immuno-compromised, pregnant women, and parents with babies.
According to RDAA immediate past president Adam Coltzau, they had been advocating strongly for the use of telehealth in stemming the spread of the virus, and strongly welcomed its adoption throughout the wider community.
"The more we can keep those who have the virus, suspect they have the virus, or are more susceptible to the virus away from the waiting rooms in our hospitals and general practices, the better chance we will have of limiting new infections," he said.
"Expanding the national triage free-call phone line service to triage potential COVID-19 patients gives our doctors and health professionals a much better ability to organise testing and any subsequent hospital admissions in advance of receiving the patient - and again, this will help slow the spread of the virus."
Depending on their circumstances, people will be advised to attend a public hospital respiratory clinic, a primary care respiratory clinic, to self isolate at home, to seek a medical practitioner telehealth consultation or to take no further action.
This will also help reduce the risk of transmission and conserve personal protective equipment.
Another person welcoming the announcement was USQ clinical nursing lecturer Emma Turner, who had firsthand experience of its worth when she lived at Blackall.
As well as giving access to advice in an emergency, she saw how people were able to speak with specialists and were saved the expense of travel in many cases.
"Telehealth will help keep some people away from surgeries who don't physically need to see a doctor too, such as those needing a script repeat," she said.
Ms Turner said those triaging would err on the side of caution and if there were any concerns, people would be asked to come in for a physical consultation.
"Possibly some elderly people might find it more difficult to use," she added.
Dr Coltzau said the RDAA had been concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment for rural doctors and other health professionals at the frontline of responding to patients who may have COVID-19, and welcomed the government's extra investment to make more PPE available.
"But we want to ensure this equipment is provided quickly to rural and remote locations," he said.
"We will also be closely monitoring the location of pop-up respiratory clinics to ensure that, where they are needed in rural and remote areas, they are set-up in a timely fashion.
"Given the key role that general practices play in providing frontline healthcare in rural and remote communities, it will be critical that they receive as much support as possible in responding to any local outbreaks of the virus in their communities.
"We commend the government on its announcement, and stand ready to work with the government to limit the spread of this virus."