Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has announced that general practitioners (GP) will receive additional support from the government if they use e-health records as part of a consultation.
Addressing the Health E-Nation Conference on the Gold Coast yesterday, Plibersek outlined the three levels of support that GPs would receive if taking a patient's medical history was required.
For consultations that take less than 20 minutes, GPs will receive a Level B benefit of $35.60. For those longer than this, a Level C $69 benefit would be provided, and in the case where consultations went for more than 40 minutes, a Level D $101.55 benefit would be provided.
"I am pleased to confirm MBS [Medicare Benefits Schedule] consultation items will be available to GPs as part of providing continuity of care to a patient, and if they are creating or adding to a shared health summary on an e-health record, which involves taking a patient's medical history as part of a consultation," Plibersek said.
"I understand that issues surrounding the use of MBS items have caused some uncertainty in the profession, so I am happy to offer these clarifications today."
However, Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said that Plibersek's announcement raised more questions than provided answers.
"The government has acknowledged that preparing shared health summaries with patients will require considerable extra work for GPs, but there is no clarity that the longer consultation items will apply to cover this extra work," Hambleton said in a statement.
"For example, if preparing a shared health summary as part of a standard 20-minute (Level B) consultation stretches it out to 30 minutes, will the longer Level C item apply?
"Similarly, if the more complex Level C consultation stretches out to more than 40 minutes, will the Level D item apply?
"Will the government be providing specific new Medicare rebates for this extra work?"
Hambleton said that the AMA supports personally controlled electronic health records (PCEHR), but in order for it to work, GPs need to be properly funded and supported by the government.
On the other hand, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) welcomed the announcement, although also acknowledging that the finer details still needed to be worked out.
"While some of the details still need to be further discussed, I am delighted that MBS consultation items will be available to GPs if they are adding a shared health summary to the patient's PCEHR, which involves taking a patient's medical history as part of a consultation," RACGP president professor Claire Jackson said.
According to Plibersek, the Medicare Australia Practitioner Review Process and the Professional Services Review are expected to approve the use of longer consultation items as appropriate.
But Plibersek warned that this wouldn't be a reform that would happen overnight and that as much as she considered it a "big and exciting project", she was "determined not to rush it".
"This isn't a matter of 'flick a switch' on 1 July and away you go," she said.
"We've always said the roll-out of the national e-health system would be in gradual, carefully managed phases. That is the sensible, responsible way to deliver this reform."