RACGP welcomes news telehealth is here to stay

Doug Hendrie

27/11/2020 2:43:39 PM

The college wants GPs to be ‘front and centre’ in working with the Federal Government on a long-term telehealth service plan.

GP on the phone
Australia has seen 40 million consultations over phone or video since telehealth was expanded in March.

‘Universal whole-of population telehealth … will now be permanent,’ Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced in a Friday 27 November press conference.
‘There’s not been much good that’s come from COVID. One thing that has come from COVID is the fact that we have skipped a decade and jumped from 2030 to 2020 for the delivery of telehealth for all Australians.’
At the time of publication, detail has not been released regarding how permanent telehealth will operate or what funding is attached.
During the first wave of the pandemic, the Federal Government heeded RACGP calls to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth to all Australians in a bid to keep GPs, staff and patients safe.
The radical expansion – which has now seen 40 million consultations over phone or video – was originally introduced as a temporary measure.
Since then, however, the RACGP has pressed for telehealth to become a permanent part of a modern health system, given it has more than proven its worth.
RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda has welcomed the commitment to telehealth as a ‘fundamental building block of primary healthcare reform’.
‘GPs and patients have benefited significantly from telehealth services and we have been actively lobbying the Government to see them become a permanent fixture,’ he said.
‘While we are keen to see the details of a long-term, permanent telehealth plan, what we do know is that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic telehealth has allowed patients to consult with their GP remotely whilst minimising the risk of transmitting or spreading the virus.
‘I applaud all the GP clinics that have altered how they operate and embraced telehealth services to care for patients. They can now look forward to permanent Medicare subsidies allowing them to continue offering these services.’
Associate Professor Shenouda said telehealth has become a vital component of the mix of services GPs offer because of its flexibility, convenience and efficiency.  
‘Telehealth is particularly important for people who live far away from health services, as well as people who may have difficulty leaving the home due to a disability and those with mental health issues,’ he said.
‘We look forward to working constructively with the Government on what comes next.
‘When it comes to a long-term telehealth service plan, GPs must be front and centre.’
A recent RACGP survey found 99% of practices are offering telehealth through phone or video.
‘There has been strong patient demand for telehealth, too, since so many people found that it greatly improved flexibility,’ Associate Professor Shenouda said. ‘There was no need for them to physically sit in front of their GP for many health concerns; it just made sense.’  
Associate Professor Shenouda said it is not essential for GPs to have great confidence using video calls, given a traditional phone call works ‘just fine’ for many consultations.
He said patients should not worry that all care will become digital.
‘Not everything can be done via telehealth and we will still … always offer face-to-face consultations,’ he said. ‘So if you need to see your GP face-to-face, you will be able to. That will not change.’
Associate Professor Shenouda urged all patients who might have delayed or avoided consultations during the pandemic to seek out their GP as soon as possible. 
‘These telehealth options are available and if you need to visit a GP clinic we have the right processes and precautions in place to keep you safe,’ he said.
Earlier this year the RACGP launched a nation-wide campaign, Expert Advice Matters, urging all patients to consult their GP for any health issues.
The campaign focused on the importance of telehealth consultations as part of the options available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Dr Gardiyawasam Lindamulage Chaminda De Silva   28/11/2020 7:47:49 AM

While we welcome the move which give greater access to primary healthcare specially rural communities be prepared to get the shock behind hit if government announced that Tele health consultation fees are much less compared to face to face consultations for the same levels ( complexity and time durations )

Dr Henry Arthur Berenson   28/11/2020 9:30:55 AM

Rebates will need to be made available to GPs with special skills so they can take referrals from other practices otherwise patients will be disadvantaged

Telehealth Dr   28/11/2020 9:47:20 AM

Im thinking if most Drs will just work via telehealth and then ask the complicated cases to just go straight to hospital or their nearest GP clinic. Our job will be so much easier. The corporates are already emailing every other day for us to join them. Yay! What a win!