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.
The six-month telehealth extension was expected and it's entirely probable that the items will be made permanent eventually, if only to allow federal Health Minster Greg Hunt to repeat his new slogan for the foreseeable future. “Our government's response to the pandemic brought forward a 10-year plan on telehealth within 10 days,” he burbled in the press release announcing the $2 billion support package. The “10 years of telehealth in 10 days” saying has succeeded Greg's “rock-solid commitment to Medicare” as the slogan du jour.
However, the last-minute announcement on the short-term future of telehealth does not come as a surprise considering the almighty balls-up that the feds have made with changes to the MBS for cardiac imaging services. These were announced last month and have caused massive pushback from GPs in particular, as they mean that most patients will have to be referred to a non-GP specialist for basic cardiac care that GPs are well equipped to provide. They also mean many patients will have to go through more invasive and more expensive tests.
The peak bodies are on the warpath over these changes, and in the meantime the Department of Health is rushing through even more to ensure rural and remote patients are not disadvantaged. But in their hurry to do this, the department appears to have forgotten that changes to the schedule need to be made in the medical software that practitioners use to order tests and claim for their services.
This week we discovered that the legislation allowing the changes was made on September 10, the data download was made available on September 12, but software vendors were only informed on September 14. And the date the update needed to be live in software? September 15. Even in the midst of a pandemic, that is no way to do business. While the department gave us excuses, it did not offer vendors an apology.
Also this week we saw a big bid from private equity for ASX-listed Citadel Group, which has a thriving healthcare division with assets including the Auslab laboratory information system, now rebranded as Evolution; Charm Health's oncology solution; and an anaesthetic practice management system. In April, Citadel bought some radiology and maternity systems used widely in the UK for $200m.
With the private equity bid valuing the overall company at $500m, the healthcare assets make up a substantial part of the overall company. Citadel Health's fortunes have wavered over the years, with the loss of the big Queensland Health pathology tender to Sunquest dealing it a big blow when it was announced in 2017, before the decision was overturned this year and Citadel was given a five-year extension to Auslab's contract with an option for five more.
New systems to help track COVID-19 were also in the news this week, with NSW and the ACT launching new contact tracing apps for businesses and venues to complement the national COVIDSafe app. New kit is also being rolled outt to the four big labs in the Communicable Disease Genomics Network (CDGN), which is tracking COVID-19's genomic signature.
There was also more movement in electronic prescriptions, with MedAdvisor's app being added to the Australian Digital Health Agency's conformance register, the first mobile app and first mobile back-end to be listed. eScript tokens can be added to MedAdvisor and sent straight to the pharmacy from there. The next step for eScripts – the active script lists (ASL) that will be targeted at people on multiple medications – is also moving at pace, with Fred IT announcing it will show off its ASL capability, known as MySL, from next month.
Speaking of ADHA, in our poll last week we asked whether ADHA should scrap its secure messaging project and let the industry start again. The result was quite stark: 79 per cent said yes, 21 per cent said no.
This week we thought we'd gauge whether you thought another ADHA-driven project was looking a little more successful.
Has the roll-out of ePrescribing in primary care been a success?
Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.