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Telehealth extension welcome, but new rules ignore patient interests

Health Industry Hub | September 21, 2020 |

Medical News: “The Australian Government’s announcement that Medicare-supported telehealth arrangements for GP consultations will continue to March 2021 is welcome, but there is a sting in the tail for patients,” said Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

“While telehealth GP consultations will continue, doctors will no longer be required to bulk-bill these services,” Ms Verhoeven said.

“This could not come at a worse time, when so many people are hurting financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and cannot afford gap payments. 

“It is not the first time the Government has put patient interests second when making decisions on telehealth.

“Doctor organisations have already scored a “win” at patients’ expense through the government’s recent “stage 7” telehealth decision that telehealth recipients need to have had an existing and continuous relationship with a GP, defined as seeing that GP in the last 12 months, in order to receive MBS-funded telehealth services.

“While this may stop the “pop-up” online services opposed by doctor organisations, and limit opportunities for over-servicing, it is also a huge barrier for rural communities where access to any GP can be a problem, for healthy people who infrequently see their GP, people whose local practice is booked out for weeks, and people who want to change doctors.

“That “stage 7” decision also put a stop to telehealth consultations for sensitive matters like sexual and reproductive health, where patients might want or need to see someone other than their regular GP,” commented Ms Verhoeven.

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President, Dr Omar Khorshid said “The decision to allow GPs to apply their usual fee schedule to telehealth services from 1 October is welcome. GPs have a long history of looking after patients in difficult financial circumstances and this decision will not change that approach.

“The AMA remains concerned about the viability of practices in lockdown situations and has urged the Government to step in with more support if needed to help them maintain services to patients.

“During the pandemic, we are also seeing patients ignore their own health needs. While COVID-19 is a serious illness, failing to see a doctor or have tests done may have far worse health ramifications,” said Dr Khorshid.

Ms Verhoeven said “At AHHA we continue to hope that in formulating future telehealth policies, the Government will listen to patients, and take into account what worked best for them in order to make lasting improvements to the system.

“We also trust that the Government will specifically consider telehealth care models better suited to team care arrangements for chronic disease management, especially in older patients with multiple and complex chronic conditions.

“The whole future of telehealth and other forms of virtual healthcare requires not only forethought but courage—courage to rethink models of care and payments to better suit modern healthcare and technology, and courage to put patients at the centre of changes,” concluded Ms Verhoeven.


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