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RACGP urges overhaul of telehealth to ensure high-quality patient care

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling for an urgent overhaul to telehealth and telephone consultations to ensure high-quality patient care.

It comes after the RACGP warned patients to steer clear of corporate telehealth pop-ups which have proliferated following the Federal Government’s expansion of Medicare-subsidised telehealth and telephone consultations. One new service, a partnership between Chemist Warehouse and telehealth pop-up Instant Consult, enables customers to obtain quick prescriptions via an app after consulting with a GP not connected to their usual clinic.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said telehealth and telephone consultations presented a huge opportunity to improve patient access to care but ensuring quality care was critical.

“The RACGP has long supported expanded telehealth and telephone consultations. They have helped decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 to patients and practice staff and made care more accessible for vulnerable patients.

“But we have been deeply concerned to see the rise of more and more pop-up telehealth businesses offering low value medical services. These businesses promise a ‘quick fix’ for patients but there is no commitment to the ongoing care of the patient.

“These doctors have no connection to a patient’s usual clinic and won’t know their medical history. Increasing access to health services should never come at the cost of patient health and safety.”

“If you consult with your usual GP on the phone or video, you will be provided with care, informed by your medical history.”

Dr Nespolon said to ensure the highest quality care, telehealth and telephone consultations should be limited to a patient’s usual GP.

“To ensure telehealth is not exploited and that the community receives the highest quality care, the RACGP has been calling on the Australian Government from the start to limit patient eligibility for telehealth. Telehealth services should only be accessible to patients through their regular GP, who can offer face-to-face consultations when needed.”

“The evidence is clear on this – patients who have an ongoing relationship with their GP report higher levels of satisfaction and better health outcomes, helping to keep patients out of hospital.”

“To ensure GPs can continue to offer patients flexible, comprehensive care, the RACGP is strongly in favour of retaining telehealth and telephone consultations beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long-term, this will make a real difference for all patients, particularly those in rural and remote areas where geography is a barrier, or who have difficulty leaving their home, such as older people or those with disabilities.”

Dr Nespolon said it was more important than ever for patients to see their usual GP for any concerns.

“It’s never been easier to be in touch with your GP – a recent RACGP survey found the overwhelming majority of GPs are offering telehealth and telephone consultation services, as well as face to face visits.

Earlier this year the RACGP launched its Expert Advice Matters campaign showing people why now, more than ever, they need to take care of their health and see their GP for any health issues. The advert can be viewed online at: https://youtu.be/xdv-dYMpwmQ

A website, www.expertadvicematters.com.au, has also been set up with straightforward, practical advice for patients on how they can consult with their GP via telephone, video or in-person consultations.

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