Voluntary patient enrolment initiative delayed

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

29/06/2020 2:30:08 PM

The new incentive scheme to enrol patients with chronic conditions is under review by the Department of Health.

Practice enrolment
The RACGP has been advocating for voluntary patient enrolment initiative since 2015 as a means of enhancing continuity of care.

Originally due to commence on 1 July, the Department of Health (DoH) has put the brakes on the voluntary patient enrolment (VPE) initiative.
In an email to the RACGP, the DoH cited the coronavirus pandemic as the basis for its decision and said the model is currently under review.
‘In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and response activities, the Government is currently working with health and system experts to review implementation details and consider options for refinement. As such, VPE will no longer commence on 1 July 2020,’ the correspondence read.
Dr Michael Wright, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Funding and Health System Reform, said the situation is concerning, but not unexpected.
‘This delay is unfortunate, but given all the changes with Medicare within the pandemic, it’s not surprising,’ he told newsGP.
‘The proposal for voluntary enrolment … was going to be a much needed funding boost to GPs and general practices. So it is concerning that this funding is no longer being provided from 1 July.’
The RACGP has been advocating for VPE since 2015 as a means of enhancing continuity of care.
When the Federal Government first announced the initiative as part of the 2019–20 budget, it was seen as a first step in the right direction.
It would give patients with chronic and complex conditions aged 70 years and older (50 years and older for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) the option to enrol with a practice and nominate a regular GP. 
In return, practices and GPs would receive a quarterly payment.
The overall advantage is that it would ensure continuity of care and further strengthen the important GP–patient relationship – one Dr Wright says can be under-recognised.
‘Many GPs have noticed during the pandemic that some services haven’t been communicating back to the regular GP,’ he said.
‘Enrolment, at least, provides a clear link between patients and GPs that everyone within the health system is aware of, and so the failure to communicate results will no longer be acceptable.’
Writing in a recent newsGP column, RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon highlighted the importance of VPE for the future viability of general practice.
‘By advocating for voluntary patient enrolment, we are working hard to ensure traditional practices are not disadvantaged by new telehealth changes and that they will still be able to offer patients the full range of primary care services,’ he wrote.
Dr Wright agrees.
‘It’s important that general practice doesn’t lose that funding,’ he said.
‘Even though telehealth has provided some different funding, we still don’t know – is that funding going into regular general practices?’ 
Dr Wright remains hopeful that further review may highlight the potential benefit of VPE for all patients, regardless of their age.
‘The Government has decided to reconfigure the program and hopefully expand it,’ he said.
‘We’re very hopeful that this will mean a newer model of enrolment for all Australians might be made available.
‘But it is important that any proposal remains voluntary for patients, GPs and practices, [and that] the additional work associated with supporting an enrolled population must be funded properly – and not weighed down with red tape.’
The RACGP is working to ensure that funding set aside for the VPE initiative is directed into general practice, and that telehealth becomes a long-term option after September.
The RACGP will continue to update members as further information is made available.
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