RACGP President unveils long-term vision for telehealth

Matt Woodley

20/04/2021 5:06:14 PM

Dr Karen Price presented the keynote address at the National Telehealth Summit, where she emphatically stated it is ‘here to stay’.

Person dialling a phone.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said Australia needs to remedy the gaps that currently exist in telehealth so that it can reach its full potential.

At one point during her speech, RACGP President Dr Karen Price posed the ‘million-dollar question’. Where do we go from here?
In recent months, as the threat of COVID-19 community transmission in Australia has reduced, so has telehealth use. But according to Dr Price, that does not mean it should be viewed as a ‘one-off experiment to manage patients during a pandemic’.
‘It is here to stay,’ she said. ‘In fact, I believe that our response to the pandemic dragged general practice into the 21st century.
‘We can learn from the past 14 months and devise a long-term plan for telehealth in Australia.’
At the top of Dr Price’s wish-list is fully funding the service via Medicare.
‘We can and should aim high when it comes to a long-term plan for telehealth,’ she said.
‘The RACGP supports telehealth as a useful complement to face-to-face care. We need to listen to our patients and their preference for telehealth or video consultations and we need permanent, long-term Medicare Benefits Schedule [MBS] funding of telehealth.
‘That means both video and telephone consults should be funded to 100% of the Medicare rebate.’
Additionally, Dr Price said Australia needs to identify and remedy the gaps that currently exist in telehealth in order for it to reach its full potential.
‘What is holding our patients back?’ she said.
‘Digital literacy is important … [and] we need to consider whether patients have access to strong and reliable internet services.
‘The problem, though, is that patients who stand to benefit the most from telehealth are also often the most disadvantaged when it comes to internet connectivity and reliability.
‘It’s almost a “catch-22”: the rural and underserved populations are also the least likely to have access to high-quality broadband or high-speed internet.
‘Unless that is addressed the full potential of telehealth will simply not be realised.’
Dr Price concluded her speech by emphasising that despite telehealth’s potential – especially for chronic health conditions and connecting providers in remote areas – it should not be considered in isolation.
‘Every patient is different and the life they lead outside of our consultation room impacts almost every aspect of their physical and psychological health,’ she said.
‘Telehealth does have enormous potential, everyone in this room knows this … [and] we have seen over the past 14 months that GPs and patients are more than willing to conduct consultations this way.
‘What we need is a long-term telehealth plan with Medicare subsidies available for all types of patients and we need to always have the social and economic determinants of health front of mind.
‘Telehealth can and should make a real difference, but to get this right we must look at the issue from the perspective of our patients. We have a long way to go, but as a GP I am confident that we can realise our ambitions.’
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