MOVING alcohol and other drug rehabilitation online has broken the troubles of distance for places like the Wimmera.
While Ballarat Community Health's Making a Change day rehabilitation program shift was about adapting to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, project manager Suzanne Powell said it had opened greater access for people living in geographic isolation, particularly in the Wimmera.
Ms Powell said people living in places like Warracknabeal and St Arnaud often had limited public transport options and this made it harder to take part in a near-daily program for and eight-week period.
Distance has been a key hurdle the pandemic has helped people living further out in the western region to overcome.
The Courier has reported on specialists in paediatric speech and occupational therapies checking in on clients in Ararat, oncology teams offering support to patients across the region, optometry and physiotherapy tapping into telehealth.
Now the Royal Australasian College of Physicians is campaigning for the federal government's Medicare telehealth rebates to become permanent, Fairfax Media is reporting.
The rebates were rolled out in mid-March to make medical care safer and more accessible amid COVID-19 restrictions. These Medicare rebates were otherwise set to expire at the end of September.
In a survey of RACP members, 70 per cent said patients were more likely to keep appointments.
This push could open more doors across the health sector.
Ms Powell, in speaking to media about digital poverty made clearer in healthcare during the pandemic, said communication was as much about body language as it was words. Group sessions like MAC helped to overcome this via video conferencing.
The shift had uncovered far-ranging benefits for community health, Ms Powell said.
BCH has also been able to reach people in in-patient therapy programs at Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital.
The MAC program was shorted to a six-week format in what Ms Powell said was approached as a pilot program, reliant on client feedback. This helped to shape what was possible for improving access to BCH programs in post-COVID life.
Meanwhile, West Wimmera and Stawell health services have both reported sharp rises in telehealth use across their patches during lockdown. A key part of telehealth use has been in easier access to specialists in Ballarat for what otherwise might be a day-long outing.
Stawell is reported to maintain no less than 40 per cent telehealth consultations with general practitioners in post-pandemic life, particularly to better reach its patients who were socially isolated or had complex medical needs.
West Wimmera Health Service is also set to host a community online forum next week. The organisation's chief executive officer Ritchie Dodds said traditionally it had been challenging for people to attend community meetings.