A current Medicare review could limit incentive to providers who support the more than 3000 regional and rural residents accessing mental health tele-service, Call to Mind, since it was set up 12 months ago.
What started as a team of five psychologists treating patients via video link, has grown to include another 20 psychiatrists who provide bulk-billed sessions to patients with complex mental-health problems in under-resourced locations.
Director David Carmody said the service is available to clients in rural and regional areas around the country, however, the demand is highest from Orange to northern NSW, northern Victoria and Tasmania.
Our estimation is that at least half of patients referred to us would not be able to afford it at allDavid Carmody
Dr Carmody said in these regions there appeared to be both higher instances of mental health problems and reduced access to resources.
"It's often there are high-instances of social and economic disadvantage as well as limited early-intervention services," he said.
A Medicare Benefits Scheme task-force is currently considering whether psychology and psychiatry appointments should continue to be eligible for rebates.
The taskforce is examining recommendations put forward by three separate health-service committees, before presenting its recommendations to the Department of Health.
Dr Carmody said removing the rebate would disincentive providing remote support and increase the cost to patients, with therapy sessions sometimes surpassing the several hundred dollar mark.
"Our estimation is that at least half of patients referred to us would not be able to afford it at all," he said.
To access Call To Mind, general practitioners refer patients with moderate to severe mental-health symptoms to video link with a psychologist or psychiatrist.
During the session, which sometimes includes the GP, the specialist will help devise a plan to manage the patients mental health, the psychologist or psychiatrist will follow up with the patient in a second session weeks later to see how they're tracking along.
Dr Carmody said mental health is one of the main reasons people go to see a GP and the service they provide is crucial to improving outcomes in regional communities.
He said having remote support from psychologists and psychiatrists can bolster their effectiveness, particularly when treating the 'missing middle', the group too unwell to be managed through doctors' visits but not sick enough for hospital.
Dr Carmody said the organisation hopes the service not only improves outcomes for patients, but helps retain doctors outside of metropolitan areas by reducing the pressure on them.
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