AMA ‘self-serving’ over telehealth decision

Telehealth GP providers will now be required to have an existing, continuous relationship with a patient, as the AMA slams current options in pharmacy

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that under stage seven of telehealth reforms, “Medicare-subsidised telehealth services, introduced as a key part of the COVID-19 response, will now promote patients receiving continuous care from a patient’s regular GP or medical practice”.

“From July 20, Telehealth GP providers will be required to have an existing and continuous relationship with a patient in order to provide Telehealth services,” the Minister announced.

“This will ensure patients continue to receive quality, ongoing care from a GP who knows their medical history and needs.

“A relationship is defined as the patient having seen the same practitioner for a face-to-face service in the last 12 months, or having seen a doctor at the same practice for a face-to-face service during the same period.

“In areas under stage three restrictions in Victoria, this requirement will not apply to those living under new restrictions in Victoria.

“It will also exempt people under the age of 12 months or people who are experiencing homelessness. They will be able to have access to any provider. Our Government will closely monitor the impact of these exemptions and will consider further exemptions as necessary.”

Mr Hunt said the change was in response to advice from GP stakeholders such as the AMA and RACGP.

The AMA welcomed the change and took the opportunity to criticise telehealth options linked to pharmacies.

GP groups have been vocal in their criticism of such services to date. Individual GP surgeries have also weighed in to the debate, with one, the Summerdale Medical Centre in Launceston, announcing last month that it was taking a step back from working with local Chemist Warehouse pharmacies because the discounter was, at a corporate level, promoting such a telehealth model.

“The great majority of GP telehealth consultations to date have been in circumstances where a patient has an existing relationship with a GP, but we have seen the increasing and disturbing emergence of ‘pop-up’ telehealth models and models that are linked to pharmacies,” said AMA national president Dr Tony Bartone, in response to the Minister’s announcement.

“The pharmacy arrangements fragment care and blur the important distinction between the prescribing and dispensing of medicines.

“Both the pop-up and pharmacy telehealth models are also unable to facilitate access to a face-to-face consultation when a patient needs one.”

He said the changes would “put an end to these inappropriate models of care”.

“These are sensible changes that support high-quality care.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild said that the organisation understood the Government’s reasons behind the decision.

“However the AMA’s support for it is entirely self-serving,” the spokesperson said.

“I wonder what the AMA would think if patients were required by law to only fill their PBS prescriptions at their regular pharmacy?

“I daresay the AMA would think it an attack on patient choice.”

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