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Telehealth crucial for sexual and reproductive health care

The Medical Journal of Australia has published research from the 2020 study 'Telehealth opportunities for sexual and reproductive health care during the COVID-19 pandemic'. The findings suggest that telehealth ensured access to essential sexual and reproductive health services during NSW's first lockdown.

Researchers from Family Planning NSW and the University of Sydney held structured interviews with new and returning patients who accessed telehealth services from April to September 2020, as well as with clinicians who provided these services.

The study confirmed that telehealth was well accepted by Family Planning NSW patients and health practitioners with benefits including improved efficiency and access to services. Patients aged under 19, students, and those who were English-speaking were more likely to access telehealth services compared to face-to-face services.

Family Planning NSW Associate Medical Director Dr Clare Boerma said the research found almost all respondents aged 30 and under felt more comfortable using telehealth for their appointments. Clinicians similarly noted that telehealth improved access to time-critical services and care for people with disabilities, and those living in remote locations.

During the research period, telehealth rebates were restricted to patients who had attended a practice in the preceding 12 months. Notably, before this change, almost 50% of new patients accessing Family Planning NSW services had done so via telehealth.

However, access to telehealth for all our patients was reinstated from July 2021 after the Australian Government Department of Health introduced new Medicare item numbers for reproductive and sexual health services delivered via telehealth. This has allowed access to telehealth for new and existing patients seeking essential care from our doctors for issues like contraception, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

"It is likely COVID-19 will continue to impact some people's willingness or ability to visit clinics in-person for some time," Dr Boerma said.

"Telehealth has been vital in delivering time-sensitive care to people in the area of reproductive and sexual health. Even outside the pandemic, there are clear benefits to telehealth as a tool to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health care, particularly for those in rural and remote communities."

The new Medicare item numbers for sexual and reproductive health services are currently valid until December 2021. Family Planning NSW looks forward to an extension to the unrestricted rebate for our essential and specialised health services alongside other critical telehealth services including mental health.

The study highlights an opportunity to make telehealth a positive legacy of the healthcare response during the pandemic.

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Media enquiries:

P: 0402 880 653

E: media@fpnsw.org.au

W: https://www.fpnsw.org.au/

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