27 November 2020

RACGP welcomes Government telehealth commitment

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the Federal Government’s continued commitment to telehealth services for all patients.

Earlier this year, the Federal Government heeded the RACGP’s calls to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth (video and telephone consultations) to all Australians. Today, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt indicated that telehealth will become a permanent part of the Medicare system.

Acting RACGP President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda said he was pleased the Government was heeding the RACGP’s message on telehealth.

“The RACGP welcomes the Minister’s commitment to telehealth as a fundamental building block of primary healthcare reform,” he said.

“We were thankful that the Federal Government listened to the RACGP’s recommendations and initially extended the Medicare telehealth subsidies until March next year.

“GPs and patients have benefited significantly from telehealth services and we have been actively lobbying the Government to see them become a permanent fixture.

“While we are keen to see the details of a long-term, permanent telehealth plan - what we do know is that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has allowed patients to consult with their GP remotely whilst minimising the risk of transmitting or spreading the virus.

“It has become a vital part of the service mix offered by GPs because telehealth is flexible, convenient and in many cases the most efficient way of providing patient care. Telehealth is particularly important for people who live far away from health services as well as people who may difficulty leaving the home due to a disability and those with mental health issues.

“We look forward to working constructively with the Government on what comes next. When it comes to a long-term telehealth service plan, GPs must be front and centre.”

The Acting RACGP President said that general practice and patients had embraced telehealth.

“RACGP surveys found that 99% of GP clinics are offering telehealth services, whether that be via telephone or video technology,” he said.

“There has been strong patient demand for telehealth too since so many people found that it greatly improved flexibility. There was no need for them to physically sit in front of their GP for many health concerns, it just made sense.

“I remind patients that if they are not confident using video technology that is okay, an old-fashioned telephone will work just fine for many consultations.

“You also have nothing to fear about all consultations becoming digital or anything like that because not everything can be done via telehealth and we will still need to always offer face to face consultations. So if you need to see your GP face to face you will be able to, that will not change.

“I applaud all the GP clinics that have altered how they operate and embraced telehealth services to care for patients. They can now look forward to permanent Medicare subsidies allowing them to continue offering these services. 

“Once again, I urge all patients who may have delayed or avoided consultations during the pandemic to please consult with your GP right away. These telehealth options are available and if you need to visit a GP clinic we have the right processes and precautions in place to keep you safe.”

Earlier this year the RACGP launched a nation-wide campaign Expert Advice Matters - which urged all patients to consult with their GP for any health issues. The campaign emphasised the importance of telehealth consultations as part of the options available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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