Welcome back to another thrilling year in the world of digital health, which kicked off for the new year just as we ended the old: consumed by confusion over telehealth policy. The Australian government seems to change the rules on telehealth as often as it changes its underwear and it must be said, the elastic is getting a little bit frayed.
Last Sunday, after repeated claims about telehealth being “permanent” and “10 years rolled out in 10 days”, we experienced yet another change in the rules. According to various statements from the Department of Health, health minister Greg Hunt, the AMA and the RACGP, the rules that applied to MBS-funded telehealth in the early stages of the pandemic were to be reinstated for the next six months to help general practice cope in the face of the Omicron wave.
Pulse+IT has been running our annual eHealth year in review series this week as we wind down for an extended holiday, but we did take a bit of time out to read up on Australian health minister Greg Hunt’s announcement that telehealth will apparently become a “permanent” feature of the MBS. In amongst a lot of hyperbolic announcements amounting to what seems like eleventy billion dollars in funding for the government’s COVID-19 response, we discovered that the “permanent” telehealth measure merely amounted to just over $100 million over four years.
It appears that the guts of this measure is that a patient can be phoned or consulted by video and the GP can claim for it if they have seen that patient in person in the previous 12 months, as is allowed now under the COVID-19 provisions. The only change is the permanent bit. However, the government’s plans for voluntary patient registration are destined to restrict this further in the future to only those patients registered with one practice. It’s not exactly the free for all the press releases promise but Mr Hunt managed to roll out RACGP president Karen Price for the announcement, which is apparently all that matters.
This week saw international standards body HL7 celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the FHIR specification, which has since become one of most widely used standards in the world for healthcare interoperability. Created by Victorian Grahame Grieve and now adopted by any global health software company worth its salt, FHIR is widely touted as nothing short of a revolution in health IT.
We remember doing some of the first reporting on FHIR back in the early days, when we were alerted to the concept by former chair of HL7 Australia Klaus Veil. Klaus told us back in 2012 that FHIR was “the latest trending interoperability technology that has taken the eHealth world by storm”, and he was right. The promise was that it would be faster, easier and far more comprehensible than standards like HL7 v3, which got so bogged down in its own complexity that it was pretty much dropped.