Expanded access to telehealth could continue after pandemic

Matt Woodley

7/05/2020 3:47:33 PM

A spokesperson for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has said he is engaged in planning a ‘long-term future’ for the newly funded service.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has started planning for the long-term future of telehealth.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, around 4.7 million people have received 7.7 million telehealth services since 13 March, while a recent RACGP survey has found 99% of practices are now able to facilitate telehealth consultations.
The Federal Government is reportedly ‘actively monitoring’ how the new telehealth services are working, after they were hastily implemented within just two weeks.
A spokesperson for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said more than 67,000 providers across all medical specialities have used telehealth services to date, and that he has lobbied for telehealth to continue after the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Minister Hunt is already engaged with the medical community and other key participants in planning a long-term future for telehealth,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Clinical efficacy and safety, patients’ and providers’ experiences, and assessment of quality and value of services will be considered.’
Recent data gathered from 1000 general practices in NSW and Victoria by Outcome Health found telehealth already comprises 40% of all consultations, and is expected to overtake face-to-face appointments in the near future. The vast majority of telehealth consultations were conducted over the phone.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said GPs have worked ‘incredibly hard’ to adapt how they consult with patients and he welcomed the results of the college’s survey.
‘I am mindful that many GPs may not have participated in telehealth video consultations or telephone consultations before. So it is wonderful news that they have changed the way they operate in these trying times to implement these changes and look after their patients,’ he said.
‘The reason the RACGP pushed so hard for the Federal Government to expand subsidised telephone consultations is that it is a technology that everyone has and will help limit the spread of COVID-19.
‘By adopting telehealth and telephone consultations, in addition to face-to-face consultations, [GPs] can take care of their patients and limit the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities.’
The RACGP survey of more than 1180 Australian GPs also found that while nearly every practice is offering telehealth, the vast majority – almost 97% – are still offering face-to-face consultations as well.
Data collected by Outcome Health shows overall GP contacts and prescriptions have remained steady, but there has been a significant drop in pathology and radiology prescribing.
Dr Nespolon said it is important practices remain open for in-person consultations, especially as the college is encouraging patients to continue seeing their GP through the Expert Advice Matters campaign.
‘It’s very concerning that some people have potentially been avoiding or delaying consultations during this pandemic and that is why we launched our GP expert advice campaign,’ he said.
‘There are of course some health concerns that can’t be taken care of over the phone and require a consultation in person, so it is great to see that almost all GP clinics are offering face-to-face consultations too.’
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