Weight of evidence supports continuation of telehealth

The coronavirus pandemic has vastly changed Australian lifestyles, leading to unwanted ‘COVID kilos’ for some, due to different food choices, eating habits, stress and a lack of exercise during lockdown.

But Dietitians Australia said it’s also presented an opportunity for many people to make life -changing and in some cases, life -saving choices, through better access to dietetic support via telehealth.

In March this year, the Federal Government added dietetic consultations to the COVID -19 temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for telehealth services. This provi ded subsidised access to nutrition support for many Australians living with a chronic disease.

The Association is calling for an extension to government funded telehealth dietetic services be yond 30 September to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, can continue to receive high -quality nutrition care. This is backed by an evidence -based position statement, published in Nutrition & Dietetics.

“Dietetic consultations via telephone and video conferencing have been an extremely important service to our communities during the past three months,” said Tara Diversi, Accredited Practising Dietitian and President of the Dietitia ns Association of Australia (DA A).

“These sessions via telehealth were found to be both cost -effective and as successful as face -to-face delivery of medical nutrition therapy for weight management, malnutrition and the management of a number of chronic hea lth conditions.” Many Australians have benefited from this initiative, including Harry, a budding footballer from Melbourne, to Kerri, a Gold -Coast based Paralympian seeking dietetic support to help manage her diabetes. Harry and Kerri have shared their ex perience (as seen in the accompanying case studies).

Access to government subsidised telehealth dietetic services begins with a referral from a GP. Between March and May 2020, there were more than 49,000 appointments for allied health practitioners under the temporary COVID -19 telehealth MBS items for chronic disease management. 2 “Having Medicare subsidised telehealth consultations with dietitians has not only helped reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, it’s allowed greater health care access for people who live in remote and regional areas, those who are time poor or find it difficult to travel,” said Tara.

“Eating the right foods to support our mental health is also crucial in this time of change.” “It would be a detriment to the health of all Au stralians, if the Federal Government was to revert back to only providing Medicare and Department of Veterans’ Affairs subsidies for face -to-face appointments,” Tara said.

Nutrition‐related chronic diseases are the leading cause of ill health in Australia, affecting m ore than seven million Australians.1 “Increasing access to dietitians via telehealth will make it easier for Australians to put their health first and navigate the ongoing impact of COVID -19 on our lifestyles, while reduc ing inequality for people l iving in areas where face to face support isn’t as readily available,” Tara said.

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