The initiative which Gillard had promised to enact during her election campaign last year has the backing of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), which said it has real potential to improve access to specialists for rural and remote Australians. Currently many rural patients are forced to travel hundreds and even thousands of kilometers for specialist consultations, given the significant shortage of specialists in rural and regional Australia RDAA Vice President Peter Rischbieth told reporters. These patients face significant travel and accommodation costs, and long periods of time away from work, in getting to and from these consultations, which can be required at regular intervals for many conditions. But while offering incentives to providers to implement the technology and rebates to physicians, nurses and midwives for their time spent in consultations, the real question remains: Will providers see enough of a benefit to continue offering telehealth services after the government support dries up? As part of her National Digital Economy Strategy, Gillard is pushing for roughly 500,000 telehealth consultations per year within four years a process expected to be made easier as the nation moves to adopt a National Broadband Network. “The NBN should provide us high availability, high speed connections, which will allow us to conduct both video consultations, look at images such as radiology images and also, with high definition cameras, be able to see high definition images the same as watching a high definition television,” said Nathan Pinskier, a general practitioner in Melbourne who serves as the e-health spokesman for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. ‘Tyranny of distance’ While Pinskier was speaking to an Australian television station on Thursday, Gillard, in Darwin in the northern part of the country, and Health Minister Nicola Roxon, far to the south in Adelaide, were demonstrating a telemedicine consult to reporters and film crews. The interviews were part of a flurry of television, print and web news stories released to promote todays launch of the initiative. “I think the change is probably going to be an incremental one but, over time as we understand the utility of telehealth and how it fits into practice, it will make some substantial differences, particularly for patients and consumers in rural and remote locations, where they suffer the tyranny of distance,” Pinskier said. According to the RACGP, 96 percent of the nations doctors use computers for some clinical purpose. To that end, the organization urged its members not to rush out and buy telehealth equipment until it can complete an implementation guide. The group is also working on a set of telehealth standards for its members, which it expects to complete in October. We encourage all GPs to wait for guidance from the College before purchasing equipment or engaging in contractual arrangements with providers, said Mike Civil, chairman of the RACGPs Telehealth Standards Taskforce, in a statement issued last week.