Regulator cracks down on ‘single-drug’ telehealth clinics


By Geir O'Rourke

6 Jun 2024

Doctors working in telehealth weight-loss and cannabis clinics have been put on notice by AHPRA, with the regulator warning against telehealth models putting profits ahead of patient welfare.

AHPRA will set up a dedicated unit to monitor commercial operations designed solely to provide customers with access to a predetermined medicine, which often dispense as well as prescribe drugs.

It says the move follows concerns that practitioners are cashing in on rising demand for the prescription and use of medicinal cannabis, bulk produced compounded medicines, or soon to be banned compounded semaglutide and related products.

AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said some emerging practices are dangerously disrupting the traditional therapeutic relationship between a patient and their practitioner.

“Good prescribing must balance safety and access,” Mr Fletcher said in an update last week (link here).

“While the delivery of telehealth services is supported by AHPRA and the National Boards, we do not support practitioners or health services taking advantage of patients or ignoring their obligations to provide appropriate care and follow up when needed.”

“We remind practitioners of their duty of care when providing prescriptions of any kind, whether it be in-person or via telehealth.”

“We also encourage consumers to be aware of these questionable practice models that are prioritising money-making over your health.”

Mr Fletcher noted new business models had seen the use of unregistered medicinal cannabis products spiral in recent years, from around 18,000 Australian patients using products in 2019 to more than one million patients using medicinal cannabis up to January 2024, per TGA data.

He said regulators were also aware of reports of ‘potentially vulnerable practitioners’, often early career doctors with little experience, who were being misled that their practice was acceptable when it was not.

Businesses focussing on the prescription of compounded glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists like semaglutide and tirzepatide-like products for obesity have also multiplied in recent years, with bulk-scale manufacturing prompting a TGA ban on the compounding of these medications from October 2024.

“These business models are structured in a way that rely on restricted medicines being prescribed and billed privately in ways that mean authorities are not informed of how many people are receiving them,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Of even greater concern, authorities are often not able to determine exactly what substance is being provided to customers.”

“Unfortunately, some of these emerging models may be compromising your clinical care and encouraging your practitioner to breach their code of conduct in favour of personal gain.”



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