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Minister Coulton. Image: contributed.

Telehealth reform stage 7 promotes care from regular GP or practice

Medicare-subsidised telehealth services, introduced as a key part of the COVID-19 response, will  promote patients receiving continuous care from a patient’s regular GP or medical practice.

Telehealth GP providers will be required to have an existing and continuous relationship with a patient in order to provide telehealth services from tomorrow, 20 July as stage seven of the reforms begin.

 Federal Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton said this will ensure patients continue to receive quality, ongoing care from a GP who knows their medical history and needs.

“This change recognises that with restrictions now lifted in many parts of regional Australia, it is important for patients to continue seeing their regular doctor,” Minister Coulton said.

“It is never our intention for telehealth to replace face-to-face care; it does however work well in conjunction with face to face consultations.

“It means that rural patients have more contact with the GPs and specialists, and also reduces the burden of distance many regional people face when accessing healthcare.”

President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr John Hall, said that the announcement was a great sign that telehealth will continue to play a significant role during and post the COVID-19 response.

“Rural communities need access to quality care, and this will increase their ability to have an appointment with a known GP and will go a long way to improving health outcomes in rural communities,” Dr Hall said.

“RDAA strongly supports the changes to the telehealth program that require patents to be known to the doctor or practice. This will help to strengthen bricks and mortar practices in rural and remote Australia, and it is essential that ongoing access to primary care and emergency care is maintained.”

Minister Coulton said a relationship is defined as the patient having seen the same practitioner for a face-to-face service in the last 12 months or having seen a doctor at the same practice for a face-to-face service during the same period.

This requirement will not apply to those living under new restrictions in Victoria and will also exempt people under the age of 12 months or people who are experiencing homelessness. They will be able to have access to any provider.

“Our Government will closely monitor the impact of these exemptions and will consider further exemptions as necessary,” Minister Coulton said.

“Requiring COVID-19 video and telephone services to be linked to a patient’s usual GP or practice will support longitudinal, person-centred primary health care, associated with better health outcomes.”

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