As members know, there will be significant changes to the telehealth arrangements on 30 June 2022, with the cessation of all but one of the telephone telehealth items.

The AACP has written to the health Ministers and spoken with the Department of Health about the problems that will be created if this change is implemented. We understand from the Department of Health that the telehealth changes are one of the health policies currently “on the Minister’s desk” for further consideration.

The AACP is advocating strongly for reversal of the decision of the previous Government to cease telephone items and has set out a range of reasons, including:

  • The significant impact on the elderly and the immuno-compromised who have complex medical conditions and multiple morbidities and who are least likely to use video and rural, regional and remote area patients where internet connections can be poor and for whom telehealth consultations can avoid long travelling distances.
  • The ongoing concern of patients about face-to-face consultations, crowded waiting rooms and using public transport because of the continuing pandemic. As members are aware, 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; we are also in the midst of a significant influenza season.
  • the rapid embrace by Australian patients of this mode of consulting with their CPPs and the very high level of expectation of continuing to be able to use either phone or video telehealth and to be eligible for an appropriate Medicare rebate.

We have pointed out a number of adverse outcomes from removing access to rebates for telephone consultations, including:

  • Reduced equity of access by patients
  • greater impact on the underprivileged
  • Patients cancelling appointments due to their reluctance to go to specialists’ rooms, concerns about crowded waiting rooms and using public transport or taxis, and their inability to use video technology,
  • More patients having to make co-payments.

Our members have identified a number of changes brought about by the pandemic including;

  • Patients with respiratory illness symptoms being actively discouraged from going to work, or presenting at medical practices, for the safety of co-workers, practice staff, other patients;
  • travel in public transport or being in crowded areas being avoided;
  • patients being more likely to make follow up appointments because they can have a telephone consultation (and cancelling if this option is not available).

The AACP has also noted that the review last year led to some views that telephone consultations represent inappropriate practice or have been overused – these views are misplaced. More importantly, there has not been adequate time to assess telehealth in the context of long term policy and where it fits in the model of delivery of medical care; there certainly was adequate consultation about the changes to be implemented from 30 June.

All governments are looking closely at current stresses on the health system across Australia and we have made the point that restricting access to timely diagnosis and treatment by CPPs – in this case by removing rebates for telephone consultations – will exacerbate this problem.

We will provide further information when available.