RACP welcomes permanent telehealth MBS arrangements, but concerned about changes that might hurt vulnerable patients

17 December 2021

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) thanks Minister Hunt for making telehealth arrangements permanent. The RACP has advocated vigorously for this.

We remain committed to working with the Minister and his Department on making these arrangements as equitable as possible.

RACP President and Respiratory Physician, Professor John Wilson says “We acknowledge the strong support of Minister Hunt for maintaining increased telehealth. But we are also worried that the Government has decided to restrict the use of phone consults for some specialist items.

Parts of the new telehealth scheme restrict the use of telephony for certain specialist consultations. These changes arrive at a very difficult time requiring rushed re-scheduling of patient appointments in the lead up to expected end-of-year service limitations.

The RACP looks forward to working with the Commonwealth to further optimise MBS telehealth item numbers.

Restricting the use of phone, and requiring the use of video for complex attendances, may unintentionally exacerbate existing inequities and access problems in Australia’s healthcare system.

“Phone consults have been a lifeline during the pandemic. They have improved access to specialist care for patients – particularly those in rural and regional areas. We need to ensure these improvements are here to stay.

“The announced changes will particularly impact elderly and vulnerable patients in regional and rural parts of Australia who struggle to get to face-to-face appointments, or don’t have the technology or knowledge to manage a video-consult.

“The pandemic allowed us to revitalise our approach to equity and access in medicine. The announced limits on phone use are overly restrictive. Any transition towards wider use of video consults must also be bolstered by adequately funded and implemented support packages which the RACP has long been requesting.

“We are grateful that the Department is committed to refining the telehealth arrangements on an ongoing basis.

We seek consideration of our on-going feedback prior to these changes being enshrined in legislation, in the service of our patients, and members and the health system.”

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