08 April 2020

RACGP on telehealth: An old fashioned phone is perfectly fine

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging patients to embrace telehealth and telephone consultations with their GP.

Last Sunday the Federal Government announced the expansion of Medicare-subsidised telehealth and telephone services for all Australians to help combat COVID-19.

It now applies to GP services and some consultation services provided by other medical specialists, nurse practitioners, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities, children with autism, and after-hours consultations.

The changes followed strong advocacy from the RACGP for this Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item to apply more broadly to cover all types of patients who need to speak to their GP.

However, reports are surfacing that some patients are avoiding consultations because they don’t feel comfortable using new technology such as video conferencing.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said that it was important for all patients to take up telehealth and telehealth consultations.

“The reason the RACGP has been pushing so hard for subsidised telephone consultations is that it is a technology that everyone has and will help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s important to emphasise to all patients that the MBS item does apply for telephone consultations, not just Skype, Zoom and FaceTime and the like.

“We can’t have the public or GPs think that this MBS item is limited to video consultations; an old-fashioned phone will do just fine.

“General practice is the first port of call for people when it comes to their health and plays an essential role in helping patients with chronic conditions and in preventative healthcare.

“It’s important that this doesn’t change and that people realise that telehealth and telephone consultations actually make it easier for patients to access their GP and get the same quality care for a wide range of concerns.”

Dr Nespolon said that tackling COVID-19 required adjustments that would save lives.

“I am mindful that many GPs may not have not participated in telehealth video consultations or telephone consultations before. Practices should do their best to adapt and implement these changes in a way that works for them

“The reason we have been pushing so hard for the telehealth and telephone consultation expansion is because GPs on the frontline battling COVID-19 know that it will make a real difference in limiting the spread of the virus.

“So we need to get this right and that includes being 100% technologically agnostic on how patients speak to their GP.”


RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon is available for comment.

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