The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the Australian Government’s move to only allow patients to access subsidised telehealth and telephone consultations through their usual GP.
The Federal Government expanded Medicare-subsidised telehealth and telephone consultations to all Australians earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to slow the virus spreading and ensure access to care for patients.
Today the government announced restrictions to telehealth and telephone consultations to a patient’s usual GP, starting July 20, with exemptions for infants (under 12 months), people experiencing homelessness, and people in COVID-19 hot spots.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon welcomed the reform as key to ensure the community receives the highest quality care.
“I am pleased the Australian Government has acted on our advice and limited telehealth and telephone consultations to a patient’s usual GP – this will ensure telehealth is not exploited and the community receives the highest quality care.
“This change is about ensuring patients receive the highest quality care. The evidence shows patients who have an ongoing relationship with their GP report higher levels of satisfaction and better health outcomes – which helps keep patients out of hospitals. Good primary care saves lives and money in the long run.
“GPs and their practices are committed to providing ongoing care to their patients, even if a patient is new to the clinic, there is a commitment to continue to take care of the patient and whatever concerns they have beyond the initial contact.
“I urge all patients to use telehealth or telephone services connected to their usual GP or clinic. If you consult with your usual GP you will receive care informed by your medical history, and they can offer face-to-face consultations when needed.”
Dr Nespolon said the reforms came after the RACGP warned about the rise of corporate telehealth pop-ups, offering low value health services.
“With the expansion of telehealth we were very concerned to see the proliferation of corporate telehealth pop-ups, offering low value services.
“These businesses promise a ‘quick fix’ for patients but there is no commitment to the ongoing care of the patient – the doctors won’t know the patient’s medical history or have a connection to their clinic.
“The RACGP advocated strongly for expanded telehealth and telephone consultations to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spreading and make care more accessible for patients.
“But increasing access to care should never come at the cost of patient health and safety, which is why we welcome the government’s reforms today.
“The RACGP is strongly in favour of retaining telehealth and telephone consultations beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue working constructively with the government on this to ensure patients continue to have access to flexible, comprehensive care.
“In the long term telehealth and telephone consultations will make a real difference for all Australians, particularly for those in rural and remote areas where geography is a barrier, or who have difficulty leaving their home, such as older people or those with disabilities.”