The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed news the Federal Government will move to extend Medicare subsidies for telehealth consultations in the coming days.
In March this year, the Federal Government heeded the RACGP’s calls to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth (video and telephone consultations) to all patients in Australia. They are currently due to expire on 30 September this year.
RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda and RACGP President-elect Dr Karen Price held a productive meeting with Health Minister Greg Hunt earlier today, where they urged that time was running out.
“The last thing we want is for Australia’s GPs and patients to be left hanging. We discussed with the Minister that now more than ever in the midst of a pandemic, general practice and patients across Australia needed certainty that telehealth consultations will be available beyond the end of the month,” Dr Shenouda said.
“With just two weeks to go, GP clinics need to properly plan for their future care of patients and make decisions on how to balance the books and stay afloat. Some patients with long-term, complex conditions book their appointments two weeks in advance and right now they need to know if they will be able to have a telehealth consultation.
“The pandemic will not end on 30 September, so we welcome news of an imminent positive announcement that the Medicare subsidies enabling widespread use of video and telephone consultations will continue.”
A recent interim report of the Select Committee on Financial Technology and Regulatory Technology backed the RACGP’s calls for telehealth services to be made permanent.
Associate Professor Shenouda said the Minister understood the concerns of GPs.
“The vast majority of GPs have embraced telehealth - they are offering these services to patients in cities and rural areas nation-wide. The Minister understood that we can’t just slam the door shut on telehealth consultations, as the results could prove extremely dire,” Dr Shenouda said.
“I’m encouraged that we’ll soon have some certainty about a telehealth extension, so we can support our patients who are still reluctant to book a face-to-face consultation with their GP. We’ve been saying for many months that we don’t want to see patients delay or avoid a consultation as we fear health concerns that could have been managed effectively in a GP’s office will worsen and require a hospital visit.”
RACGP President-elect Dr Karen Price said that GPs would be vital in helping patients affected by the COVID-19 virus in the months and years ahead.
“We are still learning about the long-term health consequences of this virus, which are likely to be severe,” Dr Price said.
“GPs on the frontline will be crucial in managing the effects of patients who have been delaying or avoiding care as well as the impacts of the virus itself on long-term physical and mental wellbeing. Consider too the likely increase in mental health concerns in many patients and the crucial support telehealth provides for communities with limited access to primary care.
“Telehealth has been a game changer because it has not only assisted in limiting the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, but has also improved flexibility for patients in accessing the care they need.”
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 and telephone consultations as part of the options available during the COVID-19 pandemic.