RACGP helps GPs with telehealth kit

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged its member GPs not to rush out and buy telehealth equipment before the college can finish writing an implementation guide, having reviewed the different technologies and connection options available.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged its member GPs not to rush out and buy telehealth equipment before the college can finish writing an implementation guide, having reviewed the different technologies and connection options available.

"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 Mike Civil, chair of the RACGP Telehealth Standards Taskforce, said in a statement.

The college is also working on the development of clinical telehealth standards for general practitioners, expected to be ready in October.

The program provided a real opportunity for GPs, 96 per cent of which used computers for some clinical purpose, the college said, but it was concerned that many specialists didn't use computers.

It suggested that the government sets up a national provider service directory, which would help organisations, such as aged care facilities, to find specialists with telehealth facilities.

The Australian Medical Association was also positive about the initiative, but was concerned about the funding provided. Vice president Professor Geoffrey Dobb said that the money provided will mean that patients end up paying out of their pocket to cover the costs of videoconferencing. Specialists receive 50 per cent loading, and GPs receive a 30 per cent loading for the sessions, although this reduces over time. They will also receive a $6000 up-front grant for set-up costs.

"The fees do not adequately cover the full range of new costs that medical practices will incur in order to provide video consultations," Dobb said. "On top of the practice administration costs associated with getting the GP, the patient and the specialist available at the scheduled consultation time, there are costs of high-speed broadband access, real-time IT support services and equipment upgrades over time.

"After the government's incentive payments stop in four years' time, the Medicare rebates will be much lower than the true cost of providing the service."

Dobb said, however, that the AMA was pleased that doctors had the choice when to use video consultations, and which equipment to use.