Telehealth extension welcome, but rule changes ignore patient interests

Friday, September 18, 2020

‘The Australian Government’s announcement that Medicare-supported telehealth arrangements for GP consultations will continue to March 2021 is welcome—but there is a sting in the tail for patients’, says Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).

‘While telehealth GP consultations will continue, doctors will no longer be required to bulk-bill these services,’ Ms Verhoeven said.

‘This could not come at a worse time, when so many people are hurting financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and cannot afford gap payments. 

‘It is not the first time the Government has put patient interests second when making decisions on telehealth.

‘Doctor organisations have already scored a “win” at patients’ expense through the government’s recent “stage 7” telehealth 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 stop the “pop-up” online services opposed by doctor organisations, and limit opportunities for over-servicing, it is also 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 “stage 7” 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.

‘At AHHA we continue to hope that in formulating future telehealth policies, the Government will listen to patients, and take into account what worked best for them in order to make lasting improvements to the system.

‘We also trust that the Government will specifically consider telehealth care models better suited to team care arrangements for chronic disease management, especially in older patients with multiple and complex chronic conditions’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘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 enquiries: Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, AHHA, 0403 282 501