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Online medical services a new reality

A federal government telehealth initiative will target seniors, cancer patients and those in palliative care.

Cancer patients and the elderly will be able to see their specialist or GP with the click of a mouse, even if they are hundreds of kilometres away.

A $20.6 million pilot program starting in July will use the national broadband network to deliver telehealth services to older Australians, cancer patients and those in palliative care.

Groups can apply for grants, typically of between $1 million and $3 million, to conduct two-year trials in telehealth services for patients, particularly in regional and rural areas.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said telehealth provides patients in country areas with more options in how they receive their care. "Patients like telehealth," Plibersek told reporters.

"We will also see patients able to access the most appropriate care when they need it, where they prefer it, in their own homes."

Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy said it was wrong to assume older people did not like using technology.

"That the elderly will somehow suddenly not want to participate is a complete myth," Senator Conroy said.

Aged Care Association Australia CEO Rod Young said the use of technology was vital to ensure elderly people continued to receive access to quality care.

"Australians have clearly indicated for many years that they wish to remain independent, in their own homes preferably for all of their lives," Young said.

The government's eventual plan for the telehealth system is that it will connect homes, doctor surgeries, pharmacies, clinics, aged-care facilities and allied health professionals.

It will use the trial program to get feedback on how it and other health-care measures can be delivered nationally.

Applications to participate in the program will open in the next two months.


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