Telehealth restrictions a retrograde step
Debate over telehealth continued this week as the new restrictions ordered by the Department of Health came into force in a hurry. Some online appointment booking services are now asking patients trying to book a telehealth conference if they have seen a GP at that practice in the previous 12 months, with one reader telling us she had tried to book a telehealth conference to get a new referral but was knocked back because she hadn't presented there in person in over a year.
We had a lot of debate on the topic on our blog from last week, with numerous examples given of different cohorts of patients, especially vulnerable groups, who will now be prevented from accessing MBS-funded telehealth services just when they were finally given access to them. In an article in this week's MJA Insight, Elwood Family Practice GP Andrew Baird detailed a number of cases where vulnerable patients will be disadvantaged by the new rules and provides a great deal of food for thought.
We think excluding certain groups from MBS-funded telehealth is a retrograde step for equity of access to healthcare that will hopefully be relaxed in future, but we won't hold our breath. Patients can still pay to see a GP at one of the “pop-up” providers and they are not all going to go out of business, but it will be a barrier to those who need healthcare the most.
MBS figures for May were released this week, showing that the total number of MBS consultations reported for the month was 16.6 million, of which 5.4 million or 32.7 per cent were conducted by telehealth. Of that, 4.9m (90.9 per cent) was delivered by telephone and just 493,000 or 9.1 per cent by video conference. On Dr Baird's analysis of GP consultation services, just over 11m B, C and D consultations were held in May, with one third delivered by telehealth. Of those, 97 per cent were delivered by phone.
When introducing the temporary MBS items for COVID, the Department of Health did specify that they applied to video consultations, with telephone allowed only if there was no alternative. At 97 per cent by phone, it's quite obvious that no one is paying any attention to this requirement whatsoever. Come September 30, this might come under some scrutiny from Canberra.
Going by our poll from last week, most Pulse+IT readers think telephone consultations should still attract an MBS rebate – 80.5 per cent of respondents said it should, versus 19.5 per cent against – but we can see new rules attaching to this in future.
In other news this week, change is afoot for one of the biggest players in the acute care market in Australia and New Zealand, with the healthcare assets of DXC Technology being sold to Italian-headquartered, private equity-backed Dedalus Group. Dedalus started out in Italy in the 1980s in finance software but moved into healthcare with the purchase of an Italian general practice management software vendor in the 1990s. Over the years it has added various healthcare-related products before buying Agfa's healthcare IT business earlier this year and now DXC's.
These assets include patient administration systems used in the majority of Australian and New Zealand hospitals such as iPM and webPAS, clinical information systems such as iCM, pharmacy system iPharmacy/ePharmacy, medications management system MedChart, and new additions from DXC's newly rebranded Care Suite. These were part of the purchase that DXC's predecessor CSC made in 2011 when it bought the former ASX-listed iSOFT, which itself was the result of a merger with IBA Health, which in turn had bought smaller companies like Hatrix.
Having been handed around a few times over the years by corporations large and small, we can't really see anything changing for local users under the new ownership. A familiar face is former IBA Health/iSOFT executive Andrea Fiumicelli, who was until two months ago head of DXC's healthcare business before being poached by Dedalus last month as its new CEO. Mr Fiumicelli also used to run Agfa back in the 2000s. He certainly knows the business.
Also under new ownership is Australia's leading scanned medical record company InfoMedix, which has now headed to the cloud to concentrate on being a digital medical record vendor. Digital task management and patient list platforms are also in the news, with locally developed system Cortex set to roll out to New Zealand's busiest emergency department in Christchurch Hospital's new Hagley acute services building, and Melbourne-developed Medtasker going live throughout Royal Hobart Hospital, including the new K-Block theatres. Medtasker is being offered by Telstra Health under a reseller arrangement and this is the largest implementation so far for Medtasker, which also counts Northern Health, Robina Hospital and Whanganui DHB as customers.
South Australia also joined the electronic prescription party with the first eScript token exchanged in Adelaide between Happy Valley practice Chandlers Hill Surgery and TerryWhite Chemmart in Old Reynella. The pharmacy banner is heavily promoting its eScript capability around the country and we watch on with interest as moves begin to implement the Active Script List model that should prove very useful to pharmacists, doctors and patients on multiple medications.
That brings us to our poll question for the week:
Should exemptions be introduced to the new telehealth rules for vulnerable patient groups?
Click here to vote or leave your thoughts below.