End in sight for telehealth on-board incentive

General practices, medical specialists and aged care facilities that are considering setting up telehealth services under the federal government's Telehealth On-Board Incentive will need to do so by June 30, when the program closes.

Healthcare providers have until December 30 to submit claims that are eligible for incentive payments, but they will not be paid to claims submitted after that date.

The scheme, announced by former health minister Nicola Roxon in June 2011 as part of the former government's $620 million telehealth initiative, was originally slated to run for four years but was subsequently cut back to three.

Under the incentive scheme, healthcare practitioners and organisations could apply for a one-off, $6000 payment to set up video conferencing services. This was later changed to a dual payment scheme, in which a certain percentage was paid after the first consult was claimed, and the bulk after the tenth consult.

The $6000 payment was only for the first year, with the amount being reduced over the next three. It now pays $3900. There was no requirement to buy any particular equipment, and anecdotal evidence suggests the majority of GPs and specialists are using Skype.

The full telehealth initiative also included new item numbers on the MBS that allow specialists and GPs to claim a loading on top of the base item for providing telehealth services. There are no plans as yet to change this, although the eligibility for it was tightened in 2012 to install a 15km distance between the specialist and the patient.

Back in 2011, the government was optimistic that the range of incentives on offer would increase the use of telehealth, and it set a goal of 495,000 telehealth consultations by July 2015.

The latest figures from Medicare up to December 30, 2013, show that over the period of the scheme, 144,113 services have been provided in total to 55,454 patients.

This figure includes 92,969 services from 3208 specialists, 50,684 services from 6043 GPs and 460 services from 35 midwives or nurse practitioners, who are also eligible for the scheme. 221 residential aged care facilities have also taken part.

Medicare figures show that the most popular specialists were psychiatrists, with 28,614 services from 511 providers, and consultant physicians with 25,944 services from 1002 providers.

This is followed by rheumatologists (9526), paediatricians (7505), urologists (5034), gastroenterologists (3637) and dermatologists (3495).

While NSW topped the list in the amount of services offered with 43,125 or 29.9 per cent, it was Queensland, which has a smaller population, where the scheme seemed most popular. Queensland provided 42,751 patient services or 29.7 per cent of the total.

Victoria provided 15.7 per cent, followed by WA with 9.4, SA with 8.1, Tasmania with 5.6 and the NT and ACT 1.3 and 0.2 per cent respectively.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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