Physicians call for Telehealth to be expanded for all consultations

March 20, 2020

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians is calling on the Federal Government to urgently remove all restrictions on telehealth to allow physicians to continue to safely treat all patients during COVID19 outbreak.

Professor John Wilson, President-elect of the RACP and Respiratory Physician said, “With social distancing being recommended by the Federal Government to prevent the uncontrolled spread of the virus, we should be minimising face to face contact that creates unnecessary risk of infection.

“It’s becoming clear that the recently announced telehealth items, while a big step in the right direction, are still too restrictive to allow patients to access the healthcare they need. The items only apply to doctors and patients with confirmed COVID-19 or those in isolation, and to selected ‘at risk’ groups such as patients aged 70 and above.”

Private practice physicians and paediatricians are an essential part of the Australian health system.

“As hospitals come under increasing pressure due to COVID 19, patients must be able to safely access specialist care in the community.

“We do not want to see practices shutting their doors, or patients missing out on vital appointments that they may have waited months for.” Professor Wilson said.

Physicians must have access to telehealth for phone and video for all consultations, in order to reduce their risk of contracting COVID and to alleviate the increasing burden on the healthcare system. Key groups not covered by the current measures include:

  • Doctors who are older, themselves immunocompromised or are part of an at-risk group
  • Patients with a disability
  • Patients who are considered clinically frail but who are under the age of 70 and don’t meet the other requirements

“Rather than the government having to write new items numbers to cover all these other possibilities, it would be more clinically and cost effective to simply have an item number for telehealth that all physicians can use to see patients as required.” Professor Wilson said.

The RACP has an established position in favour of removing the distance requirement from Telehealth, but it has become more urgent in the current COVID19 outbreak. 

Professor Wilson said, “We also suggest lifting the restrictions on consultant physician referrals lasting only a limited period.

“Some patients may find it challenging to get new referrals from their GP or other doctor during the pandemic.”

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