The federal government has reassured GPs that the government is looking at Medicare funding for telehealth services.
In his address at GP18 in the Gold Coast yesterday, Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt proposed a blended model of funding similar to the Health Care Homes trial.
In his speech, Mr Hunt agreed with the RACGP’s view that telehealth was the “future of general practice”.
He acknowledged that GPs were out of step with other professionals, such as lawyers, who regularly communicated with clients by telephone, online or via video conference.
“Instead of just a linear, single channel relationship with the patient, if we can open it up so as you can deal with patients throughout the day [remotely] and be rewarded for it, that’s critical,” Mr Hunt said.
“And I mention reward, it means we have to offer a blended model and that means we have to contribute more – I accept that.
“And [Dr] Harry [Nespolon] would not have let me out of here alive if I hadn’t mentioned that.
“It won’t happen overnight. But we’ll provide you with a different way forward.”
Mr Hunt said the government would work with the Medicare taskforce, the RACGP and other medical bodies to create a voluntary, opt-in model for telehealth consultations in general practice.
An RACGP-endorsed telehealth proposal is currently before the MBS Review Taskforce.
This plan, submitted by ACRRM and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia in August, restricts telehealth services to small, remote towns where GPs were regularly inaccessible.
Under this proposal, GPs would first see a patient face-to-face and then follow up by video or phone within a specified period, such as 28 or 90 days.
The announcement comes as a relief to rural GPs who work remotely by necessity, but who currently can’t get any funding for telehealth consultations.
By contrast, some specialists have received Medicare funding for short video consultations since 2013.
During his address at GP18, Mr Hunt also announced $29 million to fund training for non-VR GPs seeking RACGP fellowship.