Make telehealth items a permanent feature for specialists: AMA

By Michael Woodhead

25 May 2020

Telehealth has been tremendous success for specialists and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and the MBS items should be retained beyond September to become a permanent feature of the health system, the AMA says.

Around 10 million Medicare-funded telehealth services have been provided since March either over the phone or via video, and the model of care has been embraced by patients as an alternative way to consult with their specialist when there is no need for a physical examination, according to AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone.

“Telehealth is not and never likely to be a complete substitute for face to face visits to the doctor, but does provide a convenient and highly appropriate option that can supplement visits to the practice in person,” he says.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity to trial telehealth in the Australian context, and the positive results have been used to lobby Federal minister for health Greg Hunt to continue telehealth MBS arrangements beyond the current interim arrangements, according to Dr Bartone.

“While there have been some important learnings along the way, the overall sense from GPs, other specialists, and patients is that it has been a tremendous success.

“We must now turn to the task of seamlessly and fully integrating telehealth into day to day general practice and other relevant medical specialties, and ensuring continuity of care for patients – and that we follow best practice standards.

Dr Bartone says most telehealth consultations to date have been by telephone rather than video, highlighting the need for better internet infrastructure and better preparedness of medical practices and patients to utilise video consultations.

“The Government needs to support the profession through this transition with funding to augment and integrate practice infrastructure and the development of appropriate frameworks and guidelines and provide the stimulus for wider sector innovation.

“The AMA is working to provide the Government with advice on how to move forward. Telehealth is the way of the future, and must become another essential element of Australia’s world class health system.”

On 18 May Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said over 5.6 million people had taken up the opportunity of telehealth since March, at a cost of $526 million worth of reimbursements to the practitioners.

“So, a big change to the landscape and a very welcome one,” he said.

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