The college has warned MRAC’s proposed removal of initial telehealth consults with specialists from the MBS will come at a massive cost.
Removing initial telehealth consults with specialists from the MBS will cripple an already struggling healthcare system and impact the most vulnerable members of the community, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has warned.
In a submission to the MBS Review Advisory Committee (MRAC) the RACP said ensuring equitable and timely access to specialist care was central to the RACP position on telehealth arrangements.
And the RACP said the present telehealth arrangements did not fully support telehealth use in ways that promoted optimal patient outcomes and equity of access.
The AMA has also rejected a draft recommendation from MRAC that would see the removal of Medicare funding for initial telehealth consultations with non-GP specialists. It says the recommendation represents outdated thinking and would seriously limit patient access to essential healthcare, particularly for vulnerable patients and those living outside of large population centres.
RACP President Dr Jacqueline Small said restricting initial consults with specialists to face-to-face only would 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,” she said.
“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.”
Dr Small said the RACP wanted to see the Australian government 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,” she said.
“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) were proven to be effective not only at providing quality health consultations, but for easing barriers to specialist care access for vulnerable patients, said Dr Small.
“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,” she said.
And if the MRAC recommendations were adopted, she said the RACP wanted clear guidelines for exemptions, including geographical distance or patient factors, to ensure that the changes did 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,” she said.
“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.”
Public submissions to the MRAC review of telehealth services ended earlier this month. According to its latest communique, finalised recommendations are due to be handed to the federal government by the end of the year.