The rolling back of universal Medicare coverage for telehealth appointments will make it more difficult for Riverina women to access medical abortions, according to a local expert.
Julie Mecham, from the Wagga Women's Health Centre, says it may be more challenging to access the service without telehealth in Wagga, which has 21 GP clinics but only three which are known to be credentialed to prescribe medical terminations.
"On the flip side of that is the requirement to actually be face to face with a practitioner," Ms Mecham said.
"There may be undisclosed health information when you're just talking over the phone."
For the past six weeks, patients have only been able to access teleheath services through Medicare if they are a regular patient of a GP or medical practice, or have been an active patient within the past year.
This was a winding down of the government's March expansion of the Medicare Benefits Schedule in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed practitioners to provide government subsidised appointments to any new patients.
One of the few Wagga general practitioners who prescribe medical abortions says she supports the rolling back of Medicare subsidies for some telehealth appointments.
The GP, who asked to remain anonymous, backs the federal government's decision to stop universally subsidising telehealth appointments "in order to prevent abuse and overspreading of precious Medicare funds".
"The problem that has arisen is a bunch of organisations marketing free and "easy" access to GP care using Telehealth MBS items," she said.
"There's no continuity of care and the potential for things like medication interactions is very high."
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She does not believe telehealth is an appropriate and safe method of consulting patients requesting medical terminations.
"If the [Medicare] items were to make an exception for [Sexual and reproductive health] services, perhaps the caveat would be to limit access such that it has to be within a GP practice within a certain distance from the person's place of residence," she said.
"That would prevent organisations from swooping in and providing substandard telehealth consultations from a distance to vulnerable patient populations."
Ms Mecham said she wanted to see Wagga doctors who conscientiously object to abortions refer people seeking the service to either local GPs or the Women's Health Centre, who can provide information on how to access termination services.
"The changes around decriminalising abortion services, part of that legislation, requires GPs who are conscientious objectors to adequately provide referral options to their patients in a timely way," she said.
"There needs to be a recognition by our local health services that there is a gap in service delivery at the moment for women in Wagga."