Video consultation initiative great opportunity for patients and GPs

With the new video consultation MBS items being available from 1 July 2011, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is committed to supporting the profession during the telehealth rollout and highlights the value of the GP in this healthcare model.

Dr Mike Civil, Chair of the RACGP Telehealth Standards Taskforce, said that the College is very supportive of video consultations, recognising that telehealth provides considerable opportunities to improve health outcomes for patients in outer metropolitan, regional, rural and remote communities.

“The College has long advocated for equitable access to quality general practice throughout Australia and video consultations are a great opportunity for patients in outer metropolitan, regional, rural and remote Australia. This initiative ensures GPs will be able to more effectively facilitate other specialist involvement in patients' care through the use of video consultations,” he said.

To guide GPs through telehealth consultations and provide a safety and quality framework for patients and GPs, the RACGP is working on a number of telehealth initiatives, including the development of the telehealth standards for general practitioners. The standards will provide guidance on clinical standards and are planned to be available in October 2011.

While the RACGP is supportive of telehealth initiatives, Dr Civil notes that there are a few challenges regarding the technical requirements that need to be addressed urgently and that the RACGP will provide members with an implementation guide shortly.

“The College advises all general practices not to rush into purchasing equipment because there are practical issues with video consultation across service providers that need to be considered. We encourage all GPs to wait for guidance from the College before purchasing equipment or engaging in contractual arrangements with providers.

“The RACGP is currently reviewing the different technologies and connection options to provide a choice from a range of vendor equipment as a means of ensuring interoperability between them,” Dr Civil said.

While computers are being used by approximately 96 percent of GPs for some clinical purpose, many other specialists do not use computers. There is an urgent need for the government to set up a national provider service directory to ensure GPs, aged care facilities and Aboriginal community workers have easy access to specialists using computers and with telehealth facilities.

To encourage medical specialists to uptake telehealth services, the government provides financial incentives through specific MBS item numbers for video consultation, financial incentives through Service Incentive Payments and funding to support the establishment of the service and purchase of equipment. For more details on the RACGP telehealth standards project and to find useful information on the new MBS items, incentives and eligibility, please visit www.racgp.org.au/standards/telehealth.

The RACGP will continue to advocate for further implementation of telehealth supporting high quality primary healthcare delivery.

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