Supporting online interventions

Did you ever have a moment when something you had been waiting for, for such a long time finally happened? For most of my career I have been working towards equity in accessibility for mental health services for all Australians. I’ve worked in a number of different positions to try and affect change on the smaller individual scale, the local community and the bigger picture. Whilst some of the road blocks have been about stigma, others affordability issues, and others eligibility issues the biggest hurdle I’ve recently tried to overcome is equal access to services for those who cant make it into a service because of their location, physical limitations or the hours offered by providers.

As many of you know I worked at The University of Newcastle as the online counsellor, giving me the opportunity to develop online counselling skills to eliminate an inequality of access to mental health services for the students studying at UON. I was able to offer services outside of regular business hours, services that were online and could be accessed by students from an offsite location, and also offer the distance education students in rural and remote parts of Australia the same access to counselling support as those studying on the campus. This was a great success for the students, UON and for me.

I recently left the university in April this year with the goal of continuing this journey and spread my skills to other clinicians across Australian universities. I hoped when I made this jump that I would one day also be making the jump to sharing these skills and experiences with my colleagues in private practice and other organisations so that it was not only students who would benefit from this approach but all Australians. While some of my colleagues are keen there is always a stumbling block of utilisation of the services given the lack of financial support provided by Medicare for eligible Australian’s to be able to afford psychological interventions with a rebate for sessions under the Better Access to Mental Health Care Scheme.

Last week I got the very exciting news from the Federal Government via a media release that there was a break through! From November 1st individuals who are eligible for a Mental Health Care Plan from their GP for Psychological treatment and live in rural and remote areas of Australia, as classified under the Modified Monash Model regions 4-7 (check out this site to see if your area is covered) , will be able to use these services to connect with registered providers anywhere is Australia remotely using online videoconferencing methods. The initiative will last 4 years and have an estimated cost of $9 million.

What a win for the Australian people! People who live in these areas often have reduced access to psychologists and other health professionals, or find it difficult to use the only provider in town because of dual roles that people in remote and rural areas of Australia have. To be able to have greater choice and availability of services allowing for better therapeutic relationships and reduced burden of poor mental health is a big step forward in Australia providing quality health services.

Now in addition to working with my colleagues in universities across Australia I’ll also be looking forward to working with my colleagues in private practice in skilling us up in the technology and strategies to make this a successful outcome for improved psychological services for Australians.