Doctors call for Medicare rebates for telehealth and pathology testing in general practices

GPs are expanding their services into pathology testing and telehealth consultations, with the RACGP calling for Medicare to subsidise the new tech approaches or Australian healthcare will linger in the “dark ages”.

In a submission to the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce, the RACGP has called for the funding of telehealth consultations conducted by doctors both in and outside of consulting rooms, and at residential aged care facilities. Point of care testing should also be added to the MBS to provide rebates for pathology services conducted at general practices, including tests on blood, urine, faeces and sperm.

“As the world modernises, failure to make changes such as those suggested in our submission will leave Australia’s health system in the dark ages,” RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel told Healthcare IT News Australia.

Currently, the MBS does not provide a rebate for telehealth consultations and patients are required to pay the full out-of-pocket price, which does not reflect modern times.

“The way people access services is changing across the board, and this applies to health as well. Patients want to be able to contact their GP via email, phone and even video conference (Skype) and GPs want to be able to provide care in this way for their regular patients,” Seidel said.

The GP member organisation claims telehealth can be useful for short follow up appointments to explain test results, or for maintaining regular contact in chronic cases. It also provides greater access for patients with mobility issues, as well as those in rural and remote areas who have to travel long distances to see their GP.

According to the submission, “Consultative medicine needs to be modernised — GPs are impaired by the inability to use technology to consult with patients.”

Seidel said point of care testing can provide patients with convenience and instant test results for certain conditions, leading to faster treatment, but tests conducted at general practices — such as those for tuberculosis, white or red blood cell counts, and certain infections — do not attract a rebate.

“Point of care testing removes the need for patients to go to a pathology clinic, wait for results, and then return to their GP to discuss results and begin treatment. Introducing a patient rebate for this type of services would mean that when patients see their GP for a test, they can receive their results straight away and begin a treatment plan there and then,” Seidel said.

The RACGP is calling for general practices to attract the same patient rebate as the equivalent test conducted at a pathology laboratory.

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by Lynne Minion – Healthcare IT News