Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone is appealing for the government to allow all GP and specialists to get a Medicare rebate when they consult patients on the phone during the coronavirus outbreak.
The government allowed a limited number of telehealth consults in its coronavirus response announced last week but these were restricted only to people aged 70 plus, those with a chronic illness, parents with new babies and people who are pregnant.
The AMA says they should be available to every patient so no-one has to risk catching coronavirus by sitting in a doctors waiting room.
It would also protect the frontline medical workforce from the virus and allow quarantined and sick doctors to continue working as the medical workforce is overwhelmed by COVID-19.
“Broad access to telehealth means we can engage doctors who may not be able to be involved in assessing COVID-19 patients including doctors who themselves may have to self-isolate for 14 days,” Dr Bartone said.
Dr Omar Khorshid told a meeting of the nation’s peak doctors group unless the telehealth rebates were extended COVID-19 “will take out our medical workforce, our specialists, doctors and GPs, their nurses and practices out of our system”.
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“The more people are sitting in waiting rooms infecting other hosts with a virus more spread we’re going to get,” he told News Corp.
“Working from home is going to be a key strategy not just for the medical profession but for all industries as well to deal with this crisis.
“And a doctor on quarantine or his moderately sick at home is perfectly capable of performing consultations as long as we put the infrastructure in place to enable that.”
Dr Khorshid blamed penny-pinching bureaucrats for the decision not to make telehealth consultations more widely available.
“I’m not privy to the discussions are going on in the health department. I think there is some concern about cost containment of the MBS (Medicare) like there always is,” he said.
Dr Khorshid said the measure was unlikely to cost the government more when all it would do is remove the requirement for doctors to physically see a patient in order to qualify for a Medicare rebate.
Under a proposal put forward by the AMA doctors would get paid the same Medicare rebate for a telehealth consultation as the do for a face-to-face consultation with a patient.