News

Chief Medical Officer flags coronavirus telehealth expansion


Matt Woodley


5/03/2020 3:43:31 PM

Professor Brendan Murphy told Senate Estimates the Government is ‘certainly looking at’ telehealth items for coronavirus cases and patients with chronic disease.

Brendan Murphy
Brendan Murphy said that said while efforts are still focused on containment, public health authorities are exploring how to better work with primary care.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) also said while efforts are still focused on containment, public health authorities are exploring how to better work with primary care in the event of wider community spread to ensure people do not overwhelm hospitals.
 
‘We want them being seen in ambulatory clinics and see them being looked after at home,’ Professor Brendan Murphy said.
 
‘The evidence suggests that it is better to cohort them as well, to set up what we call respiratory clinics or special clinics for ambulatory people, including access to telehealth services and telephone triage.
 
‘We are working with the states and territories and in some cases they want to be involved in setting them up. In other cases the PHNs [Primary Health Networks] and the GPs will set up dedicated clinics so that you don’t mix people with the ordinary population and we are planning a network of these ready to be stood up as required across the country.’
 
Australia has experienced a surge in new cases over recent days, including instances of community transmission, which pushed the overall number of cases to 50 at the time of publication on 5 March.
 
Recent cases include two doctors, one of which led to dozens of healthcare workers being placed in isolation for two weeks, and a young baby who contracted the disease from its mother.
 
A worldwide spike in coronavirus case numbers has also seen Australia extend travel bans to China, Iran and most recently South Korea, while travellers from Italy will face ‘advanced screening measures’.
 
GPs have long been calling for coronavirus-specific telehealth item numbers and dedicated clinics to try and protect the large number of vulnerable patients potentially at risk of infection from carriers in busy waiting rooms – particularly the elderly and those with chronic illness.
 
Associate Professor Mark Morgan, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care (REC–QC), told newsGP many clinics have already started to reorganise their patient flow and room allocations to manage people presenting with possible coronavirus.
 
But, he said public health authorities could make the process easier by providing clearer and more consistent information, along with appropriate remuneration and personal protective equipment.
 
‘GPs are [preparing] in the face of multiple sources of different information coming from public health departments, state medical officers and the Department of Health,’ he said.
 
‘One effective way to safely manage concerned but not very sick individuals is via telehealth consults. [But] this takes time and infrastructure, and poses some difficulties in effectively charging for the service. Similarly patients would like to have a Medicare rebate for the service.
 
‘There needs to be acknowledgment that clinics are required to be financially sustainable, to pay GPs, their staff and all the costs of running a practice. GPs are highly trained and generally willing to play their part in looking after a health crisis, but it cannot be at a substantial financial cost.
 
‘The sector has already been starved of resources for too long.’
 
Professor Murphy told Senate Estimates that telephone triage services would be deployed should coronavirus become widespread in the community.
 
‘Telehealth at the moment for GPs is generally available only in remote areas, and we are looking at a range of funding options to make sure that GPs who are providing services to coronavirus people are properly reimbursed,’ he said.
 
‘We are certainly looking at telehealth items, not only for coronavirus consultations, but potentially for people with chronic disease so they could have a consultation with their GP without having to go to the practice.’
 
Professor Morgan said the role of GPs in pandemic planning should be clear and outlined in advance to give the profession time to consider its implications.
 
Part of that process is expected to take place at an upcoming GP Roundtable, which will be chaired by Professor Murphy and allow primary care to provide input into the wider coronavirus response. 
 
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
 
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Dr Maria Renee Boulton   6/03/2020 7:23:06 AM

We are already fielding many telephone calls from people who are our patients and even those who aren’t who are concerned about coronavirus. We have had a increase in the number of patients requesting telephone consultations for other reasons. Come on Federal Government, make the call and give us the rebates. I strongly suggest they are the same as per standard consultations no less. These are already low enough and do not cover our costs. And add a decent amount of PPE on the side. I have been requesting for both since early February. Four weeks and still waiting.


Dr Suresh Gareth Khirwadkar   6/03/2020 8:19:02 AM

'Professor Murphy told Senate Estimates that telephone triage services would be deployed should coronavirus become widespread in the community.'

ok that's something I guess, but by that point there's no point. We need it NOW to help reduce and prevent the spread by not clustering patients in our waiting rooms. These government guys just don't live in the real world.


Dr Suresh Gareth Khirwadkar   6/03/2020 8:20:28 AM

'‘There needs to be acknowledgment that clinics are required to be financially sustainable, to pay GPs, their staff and all the costs of running a practice. GPs are highly trained and generally willing to play their part in looking after a health crisis, but it cannot be at a substantial financial cost.'

So true. We cannot be expected to provide these services for free, or rather, at a loss. Expenses still continue, rates need to be paid, staff need their wages, the lights stay on regardless. Patients will understandbly not be keen to pay full fees for telephone calls when they could otherwise come in and get their rebates, and in the process infect everybody else.


Dr Dileep Singh   6/03/2020 10:48:14 AM

By not sealing borders completely ,government is allowing people with infection to filter in so how containment is possible? As yu know self isolation doesn’t work . If you really want to contain before it spreads more is anyone coming has to go through 14 days quarantine .Once it spreads more then this is also not possible