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04 July 2022

RACGP welcomes guidance on using interpreters

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed new resources clarifying how to bill when translation services require an extended consultation.

The Department of Health has published a new fact sheet featuring information on the inclusion of communication time when claiming time-tiered Medicare Benefits Schedule items.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price welcomed the new resource.

“This fact sheet was developed in consultation with the RACGP following member enquiries about billing longer consultation items when an interpreter is required,” she said.

“The college is committed to helping our members and making their job as straightforward as possible. That is why in December last year, I wrote to the Health Department recommending a change to Medicare Benefits Schedule item descriptors to reflect the additional time required for GP consultations when an interpreter is used. The Department responded that descriptors could not be amended; however, the new fact sheet confirms that GPs are billing correctly when a longer consultation item is required due to the extended nature of consultations involving interpreters.

“Every patient matters and when language barriers exist, we do need to take extra time to make sure we are communicating effectively with our patients. I encourage all GPs to take full advantage of this fact sheet and spread the word.”

Professor Price also said that the fact sheet came at an important time given that culturally and linguistically diverse patients have been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and often experience poorer health outcomes than the rest of the population.

“Unfortunately, we know that interpreters are underutilised in general practice care due to a number of disincentives and barriers, sometimes resulting in this cohort avoiding healthcare,” she said.

“So, boosting uptake of interpreters in general practice is more important than ever to
reduce health inequality and minimise the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities. Greater use of interpreters can result in more effective healthcare provision, improved communication between clinicians and patients, better comprehension by patients of medical instructions, and mitigation of medico-legal risks around duty of care.”

Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Refugee Health Dr Rebecca Farley said that the update would help GPs deliver high quality care to patients requiring translation services.

“Whether it is appropriate to claim a longer attendance item than might otherwise be expected when increased time is required to communicate effectively with our patients, has been an area of uncertainty for many GPs for a long time,’ she told newsGP.

“This fact sheet provides welcome clarity around this issue. Being able to communicate effectively with our patients is an essential component of delivering healthcare. As GPs we have a professional obligation to understand our patients’ needs and in turn, ensure they fully understand the information and recommendations we are providing.

“For patients with low-English proficiency, working with professional, credentialed interpreters is crucial to being able to achieve this. I feel this is an important step in supporting equity of access to healthcare for CALD communities, including people from a refugee background and those seeking asylum. It supports GPs to engage interpreters were appropriate, which is an essential component of delivering care.”

Further resources for GPs working with interpreters:

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