30 Jul 2021
Telehealth has cemented its place as a key tool in the delivery of health care services for our community. However, recent changes to the telehealth Medicare items threaten to undermine the delivery of high quality primary care and are particularly hurting Queensland.
We firmly believe the Federal Government’s Medicare-funded telehealth model has been one of the most successful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the initial trial at the start of the outbreak through to now, patients have overwhelmingly embraced telehealth. The AMA advocated strongly for a permanent telehealth Medicare model and welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to deliver this by June 2021. Not only has this timeframe been pushed out to next year, as of 1 July the Federal Government removed many of the initial and successful telehealth Medicare items, including long consultations and left only a handful for GPs and the community to access. There is also differentiation in MBS rebates for video and telephone consultations with greater support provided for video. Recent data shows around 95 per cent of telehealth consults have been provided by telephone. We do not support this disparity between telephone and video and believe the time spent in, and content of, a consultation should be remunerated the same regardless of the modality used.
These changes could not have happened at a worse time, with half the country in lockdown, but the AMA was able to lobby the Federal Government to rescind some of these measures. Patients in declared COVID-19 hotspots can talk with their GPs for longer on the telephone following a decision by the Government to ease the 1 July restrictions on the use of telehealth. This change is essential for those in COVID-19 hotspots but Queensland GPs are also reporting a strong need to support their patients in longer telephone consultations.
In particular, the high demand for telephone consultations on complex mental health issues is a key area of need for Queensland GPs who have seen a 30 per cent increase in these cases. We must also ensure telehealth remains accessible for those who benefit from it most, including hard-to-reach groups in Queensland such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, nursing home residents, rural and remote patients and those with mental illness.
Dr Richard Kidd, Chair, AMA Council of General Practice recently stated,
The effectiveness and benefits of telehealth services are clear, and should remain in the long term to strengthen general practice and enhance patient access to care. As outlined in our 10-Year Framework for Primary Care Reform and our Vision for Australia's Health, we are striving to improve the future for general practice. We will continue to advocate for a model of telehealth that recognises the hard work GPs provide every day, often unfunded. Under our proposed model, telehealth will complement - but not replace - face-to-face consultations, enhance and enable the ongoing care and management of a patient, and in no way fragment patient care.
We have certainly made significant progress in relation to telehealth but AMA Queensland will continue to advocate for changes at the Federal level that will allow doctors to provide the best possible health care for our community throughout the state.
Published: 30 Jul 2021