Telehealth likely to be extended beyond 30 September

Doug Hendrie

16/09/2020 4:44:57 PM

The RACGP has welcomed news the Federal Government will likely move to extend Medicare subsidies for telehealth.

GP reaching for the phone
Telehealth has been widely seen as a key measure in keeping GPs, practice nurses, staff and patients safe from potential COVID infections.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has given his strongest indication yet that telehealth is likely to be extended after 30 September.
The progress came after a productive meeting between Minister Hunt, RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda, and RACGP President-elect Dr Karen Price.
Minister Hunt rolled out telehealth nationwide in March in response to RACGP calls for urgent action.
Telehealth has been widely seen as a key measure in keeping GPs, practice nurses, staff and patients safe from potential COVID infections, enabling triage to take place by phone or video.
A spokesperson for the Minister this week told the ABC the Government ‘has made telehealth a key element of the fight against COVID-19 and has delivered 10 years of reform in 10 weeks’.
RACGP calls for telehealth to become a permanent part of Australian primary care have been backed by the recent interim report of the Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology.
‘The pandemic will not end on 30 September, so we welcome news of an imminent positive announcement that the Medicare subsidies enabling widespread use of video and telephone consultations will continue,’ Associate Professor Shenouda said.
‘The last thing we want is for Australia’s GPs and patients to be left hanging.
‘We discussed with the Minister that now more than ever in the midst of a pandemic, general practice and patients across Australia needed certainty that telehealth consultations will be available beyond the end of the month.
‘GP clinics need to properly plan for their future care of patients and make decisions on how to balance the books and stay afloat. Some patients with long-term, complex conditions book their appointments two weeks in advance and right now they need to know if they will be able to have a telehealth consultation.’
Dr Price said Minister Hunt understand the GPs’ concerns, and hailed his commitment to work with the college and members on issues as they arise to ensure telehealth can play an ongoing role.

‘I am encouraged that we will soon have some certainty about a telehealth extension, so we can continue to support our patients during these difficult times,’ she said. ‘That includes people who are still reluctant to book a face-to-face consultation with their GP, those who remain in lockdown, people in rural and remote areas and difficult to reach groups.
‘The vast majority of GPs have embraced telehealth – they are offering these services to patients in cities and rural areas nationwide.
‘The Minister understood that we can’t just slam the door shut on telehealth consultations, as the results could prove extremely dire.’
Dr Price said GPs will be vital in helping patients affected by COVID-19 in the months and years ahead.
‘We are still learning about the long-term health consequences of this virus, which are likely to be severe,’ she said.
‘GPs on the frontline will be crucial in managing the effects of patients who have been delaying or avoiding care, as well as the impacts of the virus itself on long-term physical and mental wellbeing.’
It is likely mental health concerns will also increase, Dr Price said, with telehealth playing a vital role in communities where access to primary care is limited.
‘Telehealth is also really valuable in providing healthcare to rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and we believe it can play a key part in closing the gap.,’ she said. 
‘It has been a game changer because it has not only assisted in limiting the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, but has also improved flexibility for patients in accessing the care they need.’
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Dr Irandani Anandi Ranasinghe-Markus   17/09/2020 8:31:12 AM

Thank you Ayman and Karen for lobbying on our behalf. Once that’s done, the issue of bulk billing over 70, under 16 and pregnant women needs to be addressed. In effect what the government is asking of us is to offer a 60 - 75% discount and if this category of patient forms the majority of your patient base - it is very very hard to sustain a practice!!! Would any other professional be satisfied with earning 25% - 30% of what their service really costs? Some of us will be forced not to offer Telehealth to those groups and risk (COVID) their health and our health just because it is not sustainable.

Dr Magda Saad Elkateb   17/09/2020 12:40:45 PM

Telehealth has been a life saver. Canceling it will be an absolute disaster for both patients and our servival as practioner.