Initial telehealth consults key to delivering more equitable specialist care and easing service strain

13 November 2023

In a submission to the MBS Review Advisory Committee (MRAC) the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says the removal of initial telehealth consults with specialists from the MBS will cripple an already struggling healthcare system and impact the most vulnerable members of the community.

RACP President Dr Jacqueline Small says “The consequences of restricting initial consults with specialists to face-to-face only will have serious impacts for patients.”

“Forcing patients to meet face-to-face with a physician for an initial consult would be a huge barrier for those who have to travel long distances. Almost a third of the Australian population are based in rural and remote areas where access to health care is already poor or sometimes non-existent.

“The RACP is urging the Australian Government to restore the full scope of phone-based specialist consults and retain current video-based initial specialist consults.

“It’s not just about rural and remote patients. There are many other considerations and types of patients who will be negatively impacted by requiring in-person initial consults, including patients with physical limitations, patients with neurological issues, palliative care patients and those in aged care facilities

“The MRAC recommendations fall short of their potential to make Australia a place where access to healthcare is not based on one’s postcode, but on the level of need of the patient.

“Telehealth consults (including phone and video) are proven to be effective not only at providing quality health consultations, but for easing barriers to specialist care access for some of our most vulnerable patients.

“The reality is that many specialists operate in large geographical areas, but having access to phone- and video -based specialist consults can help bridge the gap for rural and remote health care.

“If the MRAC recommendations are adopted by the Australian Government, we ask that they include clear for exemptions, including geographical distance or patient factors, to ensure that these changes do not further disadvantage Australians and their right to healthcare.

“The RACP supports the recommendation to reinstate specialist phone consults for MBS item 116, which it has been calling for, but strongly opposes the proposed change to restrict initial specialist consults to only in-person consultations.”

“The RACP is committed to improving health outcomes for all Australians, and equitable and timely access via telehealth is an important step toward ensuring everyone can get the services they need.”

The RACP’s submission can be found here:

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