Feb 02, 2023

Restoring long telehealth appointments could curb patients avoiding GPs due to costs

02_02_23 Avoiding doctors HC

New data has shown older Australians and lower-income earners are delaying or avoiding healthcare appointments due to rising costs as GPs continue to advocate for the restoration of long telehealth appointments to help bridge this gap.

The latest Productivity Commission Report showed the number of people avoiding or delaying seeing their General practitioners (GPs) soared by almost 50% in the last 12 months.

Almost a quarter of people also delayed seeing a mental health professional because they could not afford it while five in 100 people who needed a prescription for medication delayed or avoided filling it out because it was too expensive. 

As GPs ditch bulk billing and charge patients to keep afloat, health researchers have called for rebates for phone consultations over 20 minutes to be reinstated to avoid seriously impacting older people and low-income earners.

This follows the Federal Government’s decision to maintain the former Government’s plan to discontinue some COVID-related telehealth services after June 30, 2022. This saw more than 70 different telehealth-related consultations cut, including 33 initial and complex specialist items, 40 specialist inpatient items, and GP consultations that last longer than 20 minutes.

Researchers from Deakin University said there was ‘little evidence’ to support the decision to discontinue Level C phone consult rebates except for patients needing a consultation about COVID-19 antivirals and those in regional areas.

“There was high uptake of video consultations at the onset of COVID-19, but only in areas of higher socio-economic advantage and located closer to urban centres,” they wrote.

“This data indicates that there is a barrier to increasing the uptake of video-based items in socio-economically and geographically disadvantaged areas.”

“Overall, the removal of telephone consultations potentially disadvantages groups of patients who tend to have higher healthcare needs, such as those from rural and regional areas, those facing socio-economic disadvantage, older Australians, and some minority or priority groups.”

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) confirmed older and economically disadvantaged patients would suffer the most if there were no longer extended phone consultation options.

The Productivity Commission figures also showed that there were about 3 million avoidable “GP-type” presentations to public hospital emergency departments in the last year.

Last week, Federal Health and Aged Care Minister, Mark Butler, confirmed many patients were unnecessarily visiting emergency departments because they could not see their GPs – putting extra pressure on the country’s public health system.

“It has never been harder to see a doctor than it is right now,” he said.

“It’s also never been more expensive.

“We’ve been working very cooperatively with doctors’ groups, patient groups, nurses’ groups, allied health groups, and many others to develop the Strengthening Medicare Task Force report and the Prime Minister has committed to presenting that at National Cabinet later this week.”

The National Cabinet’s first meeting of 2023 is tomorrow, with participants expected to lobby the Federal Government to reform the health system.

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  1. For regular monthly prescription GP’s consultation is not necessary. A telephone consultation shall suffice, less Medicare charges.

  2. I have a friend, the doctor who she goes to is on leave. She has a concession card. She just needs a referral for an iron transfusion at pathology. Her regular doctor usually bulk bills her. She rang to find out about another doctor issueing the referral and was told she had to pay $180.This is absolutely wrong.She is now awaiting her own doctor, in the meantime she is tired and feeling unwell. This shouldn’t be allowed.😡


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