Just as telehealth dominated the last two years of digital health, remote monitoring is likely to dominate the next: that’s pretty much our prediction for the coming year or two under these strange days indeed. Everyone is getting in on the remote monitoring act and it makes sense, clinically, practically and financially.
We reckon the alleged revolution in telehealth in Australia has turned out to be overhyped in a practical sense. While the acute care sector has struggled valiantly over the years to develop funded telehealth models of care using video conferencing, the modality has not been taken up in primary care in the slightest, predominantly due to funding concerns. But when funding does comes through – such as, say, temporary MBS items during a pandemic – phone calls are not really what telehealth is all about. GPs claiming for monitoring known patients by phone should be a given under a properly funded primary care system. Unfortunately, we are stuck with fee for service so even the most minor funding shift is heralded as revolutionary.
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.