Telehealth—long-term vision nowhere to be seen in Budget

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

‘The Australian Government’s lack of strategy or vision for telehealth services in tonight’s Federal Budget is disappointing’, says Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).
‘While telehealth consultations are continuing, as announced before the Budget, affordability will be an issue for people doing it tough as a result of COVID-19.
‘The reason is that there is no longer a requirement to bulk-bill these services’, Ms Verhoeven said.
‘With so many people out of work or hurting financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions should be made to help them access telehealth appointments, which have proved to be such a ‘winner’ during the pandemic, and which will be continued in some form after the pandemic is over.
‘The trouble is that there is no indication from the government of a long-term vision for these services in the interests of patients.
‘So far, the Government has been simply doing the bidding of provider groups.
‘For example clinicians scored a “win” through the government’s recent decision that telehealth recipients need to have had an existing and continuous relationship with a GP—defined as seeing that GP in the last 12 months—in order to receive MBS-funded telehealth services.
‘While this may have stopped some “pop-up” online services opposed by doctor organisations, and limited opportunities for over-servicing, it is a huge barrier for rural communities where access to any GP can be a problem, for healthy people who infrequently see their GP, people whose local practice is booked out for weeks, and people who want to change doctors.
‘That decision also put a stop to telehealth consultations for sensitive matters like sexual and reproductive health, where patients might want or need to see someone other than their regular GP.
‘We are calling on the Government to have some vision, have some forethought, and have the courage to change to a better system of virtual healthcare that can deliver better value.  
‘But above all please listen to patients, and take into account what worked best for them in order to make lasting improvements.
Please start by considering telehealth care models better suited to team care arrangements for chronic disease management—especially in older patients with multiple and complex chronic conditions.
‘The whole future of telehealth and other forms of virtual healthcare requires not only forethought but courage—courage to rethink models of care and payments to better suit modern healthcare and technology, and courage to put patients at the centre of changes.’

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, Primary Health Networks, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media contact: Alison Verhoeven, AHHA Chief Executive, 0403 282 501