A pilot program to test the viability of introducing Medicare-funded GP video consultations with aged care residents is currently underway in nine regions across the country.
The four-year trial funded by the Department of Social Services involves eight Medicare locals and aged care provider Feros Care.
The pilot will evaluate the possible inclusion of new telehealth items on the MBS as well assess the clinical appropriateness and impact of videoconferencing to deliver GP services in aged care.
Aged care coordinator for Western NSW Medicare Local Leanne McClymont said initial telehealth consultations between GPs and four facilities within the region had commenced with positive results.
“Certainly for rural, regional and remote communities telehealth is a good way of being able to access medical assistance and not have to undertake travel over vast distances,” she told AAA.
If successful, the pilot could help address a large service gap experienced by the aged care sector, which has traditionally been poorly serviced by GPs.
Samuel Holt, director of online care at Anywhere Healthcare told AAA Technology Review in May the availability of telehealth rebates for GPs to videoconference directly into aged care would represent the single most influential healthcare improvement in aged care in the next 20 years.
Medicare rebates are currently available for medical specialists conducting video consults in aged care but not GPs.
Ms McClymont said telehealth consultations would not replace face-to-face consultations, but rather act as an adjunct to routine visits.
“The opportunities for telehealth consultation are quite considerable in residential aged care facilities. For example, with the resident’s 3-monthly reviews, the GP might choose to complete several in one session without leaving their rooms.”
The consults could also include input from pharmacists, allied health providers, families and care staff at the patient-end.
Project manager Noelene Cooper of Country North South Australia Medicare Local said the outcomes of the pilot would help develop a business case for why MBS items should be introduced for GP video consultations with patients in a RACF.
“Ultimately, we would like to see GPs reimbursed for video consultations to RACFs because it would encourage greater use of this technology, providing better access to GPs for residents,” Ms Cooper said.
“Video consultations can be a win-win for the residents, the RACFs and the GPs,” she said.
“It means residents can get access to a GP sooner than if they had to wait for a physical appointment.
“And GPs will be able to view the resident to determine diagnosis and treatment, rather than trying to do this via a phone call to facility staff.”
It is expected GPs could also provide more timely follow-up to consultations via telehealth videoconferencing.
Ms McClymont said while each site is encouraged to tailor their approach to meet the needs of the area, there is frequent sharing of ideas and information between the nine sites.
As part of the project, Ms McClymont said the Western NSW Medicare Local is also considering options for the delivery of telehealth services by allied health staff.
She said some obstacles to the introduction of GP telehealth services include poor internet connectivity in some rural areas and varying degrees of resistance from some GPs to changing the way they practice and adopting new technology.
The project is funded under the former government’s Living Longer Living Better package and is part of the Better Health Care Connections Aged Care Multidisciplinary Care Coordination and Advisory Service Program.
The trial is due for completion in June 2017.
Don’t miss the forthcoming AAA Technology Review for an in-depth report on telehealth in aged care.