Patients to lose Medicare rebates for telephone consultations
with consultant physicians and paediatricians from 1 July 2022
Vulnerable patients will lose access to rebates for telephone consultations when all but one of consultant physician and paediatrician telephone consultation MBS items will cease.
The AACP has called on the Minister for Health to reverse the decision of the previous Government to remove telephone consultation items from the MBS.
The removal of telephone consultation items will have the most significant impact on patients with limited or no access to video technology or the means to easily attend consultations, such as the elderly and the immuno-compromised who frequently have complex medical conditions and multiple morbidities; the disadvantaged, patients in rural, regional and remote areas where internet connections can be poor and for whom telehealth consultations can avoid long travelling distances.
Removing access to telephone consultation options will lead to reduced equity of access by patients to essential medical care.
The aim in introducing telehealth early in the pandemic was to ensure patients continued to receive essential medical care throughout the lockdowns and while patients were unable or unwilling to attend CPPs’ appointments personally. This was important during the pandemic. However, the fact remains that many patients remain fearful of face-to-face consultations, crowded waiting rooms and using public transport because of the continuing pandemic, now coupled with influenza. Unfortunately the COVID pandemic is far from over – to date this year there have been 7.2 million reported cases and almost 7,000 deaths in Australia.
Australian patients rapidly embraced this mode of consulting with their CPPs because telephone and video consultations proved a lifeline during the pandemic and patients now expect to have access to face-to-face, phone or video consultations and be eligible for the appropriate Medicare rebate.
The pandemic has brought about a significant cultural shift in the community, demonstrated by:
- people no longer being prepared to go to work with respiratory illness symptoms and companies and co-workers actively discouraging their presence;
- travel in public transport or being in crowded areas being avoided;
- a discernible change in the way medicine is delivered – this has included patients with respiratory symptoms discouraged from attending a medical practice in person for the safety of other patients as well as practice staff;
- patients now booking appointments on the basis that they can use the telephone where a face-to-face appointment is not considered necessary – many of these patients will cancel or not attend consultations if that option is removed.
The consultation is the keystone of medical care provided by consultant physicians and paediatricians. Policies that restrict access to medical care, such as the removal of the consultant physician/paediatrician telephone telehealth items, will be detrimental to patients’ health care.
The AACP urges the Minister for Health to ensure telephone consultation items continue to be available to the many patients who have come to rely on this mode of medical consultation as an effective component of the delivery of medical care.
Contact the AACP: Dr Terry Stubberfield (President) at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ms Janine Sargeant AM (Executive Officer) at email@example.com for further comment.