The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging Australians to avoid new telehealth models and businesses and instead consult with their usual GP.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the introduction of new government-subsidised Medicare Benefits Schedule items expanding patient access to telehealth and telephone services.
Telehealth and telephone consultations improve patient access to care, increase flexibility and help keep healthcare workers and patients safe during the pandemic emergency. When connected to a usual GP or practice, these services ensure continuous and comprehensive care that is informed by patients’ medical history and individual circumstances.
However, the expansion of telehealth and telephone MBS items has seen a surge in telehealth models and businesses that typically rely on quick patient turnover. This leaves no time for discussions around preventive health and longer-term health and wellbeing.
The RACGP has significant concerns about these on-demand telehealth and telephone services that don’t provide a link to a patient’s usual GP clinic, which is essential for continuity of care. There are additional concerns with privacy and the inappropriate and unapproved use of patient data, both during and after a consult, in addition to issues around technical capabilities.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon warned patients to avoid these services.
“Some of these services are potentially providing sub-standard and inappropriate care. They are taking advantage of understandable anxieties in the community about contracting COVID-19 and expanding their operations.
“This poses considerable risks to the health and wellbeing of the community and the viability and reputation of high-quality brick and mortar general practices.
“If a patient is provided care outside of their usual general practice by a doctor who has no prior knowledge of their medical history you compromise continuity of care and that is a massive problem.
“Fragmenting services and providing episodic rather than continuous care is a terrible outcome for public health. If we have a situation where patients are being paired to an unknown person, who possibly lives in a different town or city with little or no knowledge of local health services than that is obviously not a good outcome.
“You can also have multiple medical records that may not be synchronised and patient notes may not be passed on to the patient’s usual GP. This then leads to delays or misdiagnosis and duplication or unnecessary investigations or tests, which all increase the risk of harm.”
Dr Nespolon said that patients should consult with their usual GP instead.
“Ensuring continuity of care is vital in achieving the highest possible standard of primary care.
“If you can get to know your own GP that is ideal. An ongoing GP-patient relationship is critical to delivering patient-centred, comprehensive and coordinated care.
“Your usual GP will know your medical history and have a greater sense of your life situation. An ongoing relationship is particularly important for identifying and addressing mental health issues.
“The evidence is clear that patients who have an ongoing relationship with their GP report higher levels of satisfaction and better health outcomes, particularly when it comes to avoiding hospitalisations and emergency department presentations. They are also more likely to receive appropriate and patient-centred care.
“Get to know your GP, we are there to help you every day for any health concern you may have. We are also there to support you in your longer-term health needs, broader wellbeing and self-management.
“Remember too that while some health issues will require an in-person consultation almost all GP clinics are offering telehealth and telephone consultations. If you don’t feel confident using video technology that’s okay, a telephone is just fine.”
As part of the recently launched Expert Advice Matters campaign the RACGP has been urging all patients to take care of their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic and consult with their usual GP for any health concerns.
The campaign website has practical advice for patients on how they can see their GP on the phone or using videoconferencing platforms, as well as in-person consultations. The campaign advert can be viewed online at: https://youtu.be/xdv-dYMpwmQ