Medicare-funded telehealth consults have fast become part of the new normal for GPs, with doctors enjoying the flexibility, safety and earning potential of the new subsidies.
This is evidenced by the rapid growth in telehealth roles being advertised on AusDoc.JOBS and by the correspondingly high number of applicants.
It seems Chief Medical Adviser Professor Michael Kidd was right back in March when he described the new telehealth item numbers as the most significant change in the history of Medicare. By the end of April, there had already been 4.6 million GP telehealth consults, according to data published by the University of Queensland.
The idea is also gaining popularity with patients and telehealth has helped make up for some of the fall-offs in attendance and income during COVID-19, says a NSW Central Coast GP. One of the obvious benefits is reduced exposure to infections, he says.
“Some GPs are still not doing face-to-face consults due to their own medical history or fears, so they will be looking to increase their work-from-home income.”
Another benefit is the ability to lengthen the working day by cutting out the daily commute or by mixing and matching in-practice consults and work-from-home to avoid peak traffic.
The geographical flexibility of telehealth also enables GPs to supplement their income by accepting part-time roles at weekends or after hours.
“It is very convenient to work from home, and it will become even more so once e-scripts are widely available,” the GP says.
The telehealth item numbers were introduced as a COVID-19 emergency measure and are scheduled to be phased out in September. But GPs don’t want them to go and thousands have backed Australian Doctor’s Don’t Hang Up on Telehealth petition.
Either way, telehealth appears to have taken on a life of its own. “I think telehealth is here to stay regardless of whether the MBS funds it or not,” says the Central Coast GP.
“Lots of patients will now be used to this luxury and would rather pay privately to get their results or repeat prescriptions and the like instead of sitting in waiting rooms for prolonged periods.”
The thousands of GPs who view positions advertised on AusDoc.JOBS are overwhelmingly positive about the potential of telehealth. Here are some of their deidentified comments:
- “In these days of COVID-19, being able to attend to my patients via telehealth is very convenient.”
- “I am interested in working in telehealth as I believe it is a big part of the future of medicine and can have huge reach, especially to vulnerable patients in the wider community.”
- “Telehealth offers the added advantage of reducing the need for me to travel to my patients … Plus it has the added advantage that I can work from the comfort of my home doing what I love.”
- “It gives flexibility and is less stressful when you consider commuting time.”
- “I am interested in Telehealth because of the ability to break through geographic restrictions to reach people further away. Telehealth also adds diversity.”
COVID has driven rapid change and wherever we end up, it won’t be like before as telehealth here to stay.