10-year primary care plan belies universal telehealth claims

Written by Kate McDonald in .

Yes, we know we’ve been kicking around this for a long time, but this week has revealed in full color just how ridiculous outgoing health minister Greg Hunt’s commitment to telehealth is. Despite a host of twists and turns to the contrary, the Australian government has no intention of instituting universal permanent telehealth, nor has it made any Herculean efforts to institute it, as the Medical Software Industry Association ludicrously likes to promote.

The surreptitious release of the grandiloquently titled Primary Health Care 10-Year Plan, supposedly released on March 25, four days before the budget but somehow evading everyone’s attention, suggests that there are many elements in the plan that the Department of Health wants. to hide.

One of them is surely the additional restrictions it is placing on MBS-funded telehealth. While Mr. Hunt speaks of universal permanent telehealth as one of his great legacies, not only that, but apparently one of the biggest reforms to Medicare since it was enacted, repeated policy changes and restrictions show that this is simply It is not like this.

Everyone welcomed the MBS elements for telehealth when COVID hit and it was certainly an achievement to get the Department of Health to institute new element numbers, but it has been a political issue ever since. The technology has been around for a long time, but GPs had no idea how to use it, or more importantly how to bill for it, and so they turned to the phone. Then they got scared by what they thought were dodgy online telehealth services and worried their regular patients might go elsewhere and get substandard care.

Poor care is certainly true of some services that diagnose via chatbot, prescribe insecurely and aren’t set up so the patient’s regular GP has any idea what was going on, but most telehealth services have members of RACGP or ACEM and are perfectly capable of providing good service by video.

That didn’t stop pressure from being put on what medical lobby groups called “emerging” telehealth companies, most of which had been in business for quite a few years paying and were nothing of the sort, and demanding restrictions. .

The department relented and introduced new rules in favor of continuity of care by limiting MBS-funded telehealth to patients who have seen a GP, or a GP from the same practice, in the last 12 months. There were exceptions – homeless people, babies under 12 months, people in COVID hotspots – but it was pretty clear the department was withering under pressure from the RACGP and AMA to ensure emerging telehealth companies weren’t taking advantage of the low points. Fruit.

We were then told that “universal permanent telehealth” had been introduced, but the extent to which the Department of Health folded like a wetsuit in the face of this pressure is highlighted in the 10-year primary health care plan, which not only restrict MBS-funded telehealth to a practice the patient has attended in the previous 12 months, but to a practice the patient has “voluntarily enrolled” in.

Patients will need to attend a specific practice multiple times during a given period to qualify, and according to the plan, they will need to keep their record by revisiting within a certain period.

This is a bullshit. Medicare is Australia’s public health insurance plan and was created to ensure that money was not a barrier to accessing health care. It seems that for all the government’s claims to “guarantee Medicare,” it has a policy that won’t guarantee anything of the sort. The RACGP, which supports these movements, should be ashamed.

These restrictions only apply to telehealth at this time, but there is potential for them to be extended to a host of Medicare-funded services, such as chronic disease management plans and team care arrangements. Should you be eligible for publicly funded screening services, such as breast, cervical, or bowel cancer screening, unless you are registered with a practice? What about free heart health checks or vaccinations? People who are moving house, state or country, people who can’t make it to a practice, people who need care right now are not thought of. Hello emergency departments! Medicare was created to ensure equal access to care. The ten-year plan for primary care does not guarantee any of that.

There was a lot of attention in the run-up to last fortnight’s budget, but it seems like it quickly lost attention. We asked in our survey question last week if it was a useful budget for healthcare and healthcare IT. We got a mixed response, we must say. Only a handful of respondents said yes: 88 percent said no.

We also asked if you thought so, what measures did you support? If not, what would you have liked to see? This is what you said.

This week we ask you:

Is the Department of Health’s voluntary patient registration scheme the end of publicly funded telehealth?

Vote here or leave your comments below.

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