The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged the federal Government to defer changes to Medicare claiming rules for telehealth consultations.
It comes following RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett writing to the Secretary of the Department of Health, Professor Brendan Murphy, strongly recommending that the 80/20 rule for telehealth and the 30/20 rule for phone consultations be delayed until a comprehensive review has been undertaken to ensure the rules are fit for purpose and don’t negatively impact general practice care.
The 30/20 rule would result in any GP providing more than 30 daily phone consultations on 20 or more days over a 12-month period being referred to the Professional Services Review, the body responsible for reviewing and examining possible inappropriate practice by practitioners providing Medicare services.
The 80/20 rule would deem a GP to have engaged in inappropriate practice if they render or initiate 80 or more professional attendance services on 20 or more days in a 12-month period.
The RACGP welcomed the decision made last year to defer the prescribed pattern of service rules until 1 July 2022 in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases and the need for GPs and general practice teams to focus on delivering care to patients. However, RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said that a further deferment was necessary given the enormous pressures being placed on general practice.
“Now is not the time to impose new telehealth rules on general practice.”
“GPs and general practice teams have a lot on their plate, and we are doing all we can to keep our heads above water. High rates of community transmission of COVID-19 and the flu and other viruses mean that many patients are still accessing care via telehealth and many patients, particularly those not confident using video technology, prefer consults via telephone.
“Extending the introduction of these rules would be a sensible move. It would allow for a comprehensive review of the 80/20 rule and 30/20 rule to ensure that they are fit for purpose and do not compromise GP and general practice team wellbeing and high-quality patient care.
“It is vital that the Health Department has our back. GPs and general practice teams are doing an incredible job providing COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as flu vaccines, delivering care to patients who have delayed or avoided screenings and consults during the pandemic and helping people with mental health concerns. All we ask of Professor Brendan Murphy is that he delays these rules and conducts a review because the last thing we want is for GPs, general practice team members or our patients to be negatively affected in any way.”
RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett said that the wellbeing of GPs and general practice teams must be front of mind.
“GPs should not be punished and have their wellbeing put at risk when we are doing all we can in very trying circumstances to help patients in need during the winter months.”
This is part of a broader problem concerning compliance measures and how it affects GPs across Australia. Our members regularly tell us that the Department’s punitive compliance agenda is a reason for them to consider early retirement or reduce their consulting hours. This is particularly problematic given the challenges we are having attracting future doctors to the profession and the fact that GPs are needed to manage the fallout from the pandemic.
“The vast majority of GPs are just trying to do the right thing. The many complicated changes to telehealth rules and various bureaucratic interventions have not made this easy and all we want is a clear understanding of the need for these rules, how the benchmarks have been determined and an assurance that our wellbeing as well as patient care won’t be affected.
“The RACGP has consistently said that more resources should be put into education and awareness-raising rather than heavy-handed compliance measures. An exhausted and reduced medical workforce benefits no one and this can compromise patient care. So, we urge the Department to urgently defer and review these rules as our patients deserve nothing less.”
The RACGP’s submission to the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) audit of the expansion of telehealth services outlines several challenges the new Government must face head on to improve our telehealth system. This includes learning from mistakes made in implementing telehealth services and making longer telephone consultations a permanent fixture of Medicare.
Original content from AAP. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.
Nina Alvarez is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel. Her interests include writing, particularly about the healthcare sector and the many ways it can improve to further benefit people from all walks of life.