10 July 2020

Telehealth restrictions will limit reach of pop-up providers

COVID-19 Telehealth

Individuals who want to access to bulk-billed telehealth will now have to do so with their regular GP or practice, says the Department of Health.

The changes, announced today, are being celebrated as a triumph for the profession, following months of RACGP lobbying in Canberra.

Patients will now only be able to access telehealth MBS item numbers through a GP or practice that they have attended in the past 12 months, or by referral from a non-GP specialist.

But the changes won’t apply to infants (under 12 months old), homeless people, or people living in COVID-19 hot spots, who can continue to use telehealth as a new patient.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said the changes were positive news for GPs and their patients.

“We know that patients who have long-term relationships with their GP have much better health outcomes, and that should also be reflected through the way we do telehealth,” he told The Medical Republic.

“These changes reinforce the role of the traditional general practitioner and help to add value to telehealth, because the patient will be talking to a doctor who has some background, or hopefully extensive background, on them.”

Under the previous model, GPs could access two MBS item numbers to consult patients remotely: one for video-conference consultations, and one for telephone consultations, if video was not available.

But there was concern about private providers of telehealth, such as Instant Consult and Script Now, which were able to capitalise on the changes to the MBS by offering bulk-billing consults and issuing prescriptions to first-time patients.

The telehealth item numbers, which are set to expire on September 30, are speculated to continue in some capacity, beyond the original deadline.

Dr Nespolon said this consolidation in how the telehealth items may be used made a stronger case for keeping them as a more permanent fixture in general practice.

“It helps to reinforce the argument that telehealth should be a normal part of general practice delivery in Australia, beyond September 30, and we welcome that the government has listened to us on this issue,” he said.

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Lisa Opie
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Lisa Opie
23 days 14 hours ago

I agree it’s a great idea, however it will negatively impact my business significantly because I have just opened a new general practice in a small town. Almost all my patients are new to my practice currently. I presume I only have to have seen them once to them be able to claim for telehealth?

lou lewis
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lou lewis
19 days 11 hours ago
Hi Lisa, You say and I quote, “I have just opened a new general practice in a small town. Almost all my patients are new to my practice currently.” And that is good news for you. I must assume that being a new practice the only patients you have are those that have actually seen you, and as such you would be more than eligible to claim the tele-health rebate that a lot of other practices in the city that may not have seen the patient for over 12 months they would be ineligible for subsidised tele-health. Furthermore you state,… Read more »
Martina
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Martina
24 days 11 hours ago

A further improvement would be to link the patient to the provider ie. the GP. Loyalty should be between a patient a the GP – not the GP practice. If a patient follows a GP, then they are receiving continuous care, but this system doesn’t allow for this.

Dr Lou Lewis
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Dr Lou Lewis
24 days 13 hours ago
Will someone please pinch me to make sure I am not dreaming!! The government has actually done something that will benefit genuine medical practices and will get rid of the exploiters!! Today is not the 1st of April I hope. In all seriousness this decision by the government will do more to help small as well as large family medical practices survive ,especially as there appears to be a looming ‘explosion’ of Coronavirus in not just Victoria but in the rest of Australia and I wouldn’t be surprised that, if we start getting spikes of Covid in other states, then… Read more »
John ODonnell
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John ODonnell
24 days 11 hours ago

Totally agree Lou!

Malcolm Mackay
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Malcolm Mackay
24 days 13 hours ago

RACGP old boys network stymie innovation and look after themselves at the expense of other GP’s and the public. This will impact my ability to provide lifestyle medicine Telehealth consultations to those in need regardless of their socioeconomic status.

John Fone
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John Fone
20 days 13 hours ago

What exactly is “Lifestyle Medicine” and how does the use of Telehealth contribute to or actually constitute General Practice?
Are you trying to pretend that chats over the phone are in any way what the majority of both old and young Doctors consider there profession to be?
By all means use Telehealth but don’t expect to be reimbursed by Medicare in the same way it has been since the 70s.
Thin end of the wedge for rorts, non-peer reviewed , substandard money grubbing

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