Continuous care telehealth model is good medicine, Dr Robert Clarke says

Photo: North Coast Primary Health Network.
Photo: North Coast Primary Health Network.

A change in Medicare-subsidised telehealth services to ensure continuous care from a GP or practice is good medicine, a Hastings doctor says.

Telehealth GP providers, from July 20, are required to have an existing and continuous relationship with a patient in order to provide telehealth services.

A relationship is defined as the patient having seen the same practitioner face-to-face in the past 12 months or having seen a doctor at the same practice face-to-face during the same period.

Dr Robert Clarke said it was a good change for a variety of reasons.

He said a so-called repeat script, for example, was an opportunity to review a patient's condition.

Dr Clarke said if the consultation was done by a doctor with no idea of a patient's background, the review opportunity was lost.

Telehealth makes up about 10 to 15 per cent of Greenmeadows Medical's consultations, down from about one quarter when expanded telehealth services were introduced.

Telehealth services ramped up amid the coronavirus crisis to protect the health of doctors and patients.

Dr Clarke said telehealth had been largely advantageous as it was one way of social distancing.

"It's very convenient for the patient to not have to drive here for people without easy access to transport," he said.

Telehealth has its limitations.

Dr Clarke said the disadvantages of telehealth included the loss of a lot of information gleaned from being face-to-face.

The federal government's telehealth continuous care approach will ensure patients receive ongoing care from a GP who knows their medical history and needs.

Healthy North Coast is optimistic about the longer-term availability of video and phone consultations.

Healthy North Coast's chief executive officer Julie Sturgess said the region had seen a positive adoption of telehealth.

"Local clinicians and patients alike have been enthusiastic about the availability of appointments by video or phone - we are working with our local medical community as well as the government to explore what a longer-term model of care looks like that includes ongoing telehealth options," Ms Sturgess said.

"This latest change to the current temporary telehealth services is yet another benefit to having a regular GP or general practice that knows your medical history."

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said the AMA strongly supported the government's changes to ensure appropriate access to Medicare-funded telehealth services.

Dr Bartone said the AMA advocated for the changes, which better targeted the temporary Medicare COVID-19 telehealth items for patients who needed a telehealth GP consultation.

Patients under 12 months and those experiencing homelessness can continue to access telehealth services from any provider without having to be an existing patient.

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