PSYCHIATRIST Dave Carmody says proposed changes to Medicare Benefits Scheme will widen the gap for regional Australians in mental health care.
Dr Carmody, a co-founder for telehealth service Call To Mind, said taskforce review recommendations aim to create greater transparency across telehealth with new billing codes for specialties. But at the same time, a new code for telehealth psychiatry will lower the rebate percentages, in turn increasing cost for patients and providers.
Call To Mind was created to help fill break barriers to access psychiatric services for rural and regional Australians. A team of psychiatrists work with patients and their general practitioner via video conferencing.
Since launching mid-last year, 99 per cent of Call To Mind services - including patients in Ballarat - have been bulk-billed.
"Particularly in the type of consultation we're doing, supporting GPs and GPs are the bedrock for community health. Without that bulk-billing, people with probably go without," Dr Carmody said.
"We've established at least two-thirds of our patients would be unable to afford psychiatric services and would have to rely on the public mental health system."
Dr Carmody, who is based in Melbourne, said GPs in a Ballarat bulk-bill clinic he has visited find the wait for psychiatric services for their patients could take months. Travel to Melbourne for specialist help was also another hurdle in Ballarat, particularly for those aged under 18.
Dr Carmody said their work was predominantly with patients in what is known in health as the "missing middle", the patients too complex for GPs or headspace but not at a heightened level for urgent care.
"Hopefully we're seeing people early on for a chance for intervention," Dr Carmody said.