Pulse+IT Blog

GP telehealth thrown a lifeline

After months of agitation from the doctors' groups and tight lips from the Department of Health, the federal government finally came to the party and announced late on Thursday night that it would extend Medicare-funded telehealth for another six months.

The doctors' groups are still lobbying for the new MBS item numbers to be made permanent, but for the time being they will no longer expire on September 30 but carry through until March 31, 2021. The GP-led respiratory clinics and home medicines delivery will also continue for another six months, although it appears that the subsidy for COVID-related SMSs might expire as scheduled.

SMD: scrap it and start again?

A couple of very interesting blogs caught our eye this week, both written by experts in their field that raise new possibilities and go against the orthodoxy. One of those was an op-ed by epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald that poured a lot of cold water on the hysterical reaction to news that contact tracers by and large use whiteboards, pen and paper in what is still very much a manual process.

Victoria is belatedly investing in a common IT solution that is sure to assist this process somewhat but it's not going to solve all problems. People will still need to be interviewed and maps of their movements still need to be made, unless we go down the track of more authoritarian regimes and mandate that the population wears a trackable device. Considering the squawks of horror from the privacy lobby that met the announcement of the nondescript COVIDSafe app, we can't see this happening.

Should video kill the audio star?

Telehealth was again a hot topic this week, with Andrew Baird's article on how GPs were using both phone and video our most popular. The AMA and RACGP have both been hard at it lobbying the federal government to extend the temporary MBS items for telehealth beyond September 30 and everyone seems to agree it would be a good idea.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt does too, repeatedly saying he's keen on telehealth and touting the benefits of the temporary measures. That he is in the unique position of actually being able to make them permanent but as yet has not done so seems to have escaped his notice.

COVID response and the CIA

All eyes were on the Victorian aged care sector this week as it continued to bear the brunt of the second coronavirus wave. Many were also watching the poor performance of Australia's Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, who has had his responsibility for decisions about COVID-19 related aged care emergency measures removed and handed over to Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Thankfully the outbreak in aged care appears to have stabilised and the number of facilities on the critical list is beginning to fall. This may have been assisted by moves a month ago by the federal and state governments to set up a Victorian Aged Care Response Centre (VACRC) to manage the outbreak and mobilise extra carers for the 129 facilities that have reported infections so far. The centre's executive director Joe Buffone said the centre was tracking 13 facilities in the red “critical” category in early August and that number has now stabilised to four.

Aged care at the epicentre of epidemic

We had our fingers crossed this week that things would go well at the Parkville precinct in Melbourne, where three hospitals went live with a new electronic medical record on Saturday morning, and it appears that things have gone smoothly. We have not heard a peep or a grumble about the implementation so far, apart from questioning the wisdom of going live during a global pandemic in a city experiencing a second wave of infections in the first place.

The Royal Children's Hospital implementation, which has been adopted by its neighbours, seems to have been the right one and if there were major problems this week, everyone would have heard. Parkville's big bang during COVID-19 will make a fascinating case study one day.

HealthEngine's $2.9m worth of sorrow

The long-running saga of HealthEngine and several instances of its naughty behaviour finally came to an end this week with a spanking $2.9 million fine handed down courtesy of the Federal Court of Australia. In action instigated by the ACCC last year following an ABC investigation, HealthEngine acknowledged it shared users' personal information with insurance brokers without adequately disclosing this to the users, and picked up a tidy $1.8m over four years for doing so.

Misfortune or carelessness: the year 2020

Along with “novel coronavirus”, “social distancing” and “hydroxychloroquine”, “contact tracing apps” will go down as one of the most notable additions to the pandemic lexicon. They have certainly proved controversial as privacy concerns run headlong into public health necessities, and few if any have proved overly useful.

New Zealand's COVID Tracer app hasn't been hugely successful so far with fewer than 600,000 downloads, but thankfully it hasn't really needed to be. However, with one eye on the second wave plaguing Victoria, the NZ government has announced it is going to trial a new wearable Bluetooth alternative called CovidCard that has been strongly promoted by business groups and some academics.

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