New telehealth guide for GPs

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has released a new guide to help GPs establish video consultation, which could eventually be used to improve healthcare access for elderly Australians.

Above: Dr Mike Civil, chair of the RACGP Telehealth Standards Taskforce.

By Stephen Easton

Last week the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) released a new guide for GPs and their staff looking to establish video consulting within their practice, continuing its work encouraging the profession to take up telehealth

The newly revised guide provides simplified guidance on a range of related implementation, technical and usage issues.

The resource includes an updated summary of telehealth-related MBS item numbers and incentives currently available, a tool to assist GPs and their staff determine which video conferencing option is best for their practice, as well as advice on connecting with specialists, change management and even using Skype.

The RACGP believes Skype is safe for a clinical consultation, but warns “there are some aspects that general practitioners and other medical professionals need to be aware of” before deciding to use it.

Dr Mike Civil, chair of the RACGP Telehealth Standards Taskforce, said the new guidelines would provide an excellent source of user-friendly information for GPs and practice staff keen to start offering video consultations.

“Video consultations are fast becoming a valued option for practices looking to enable more convenient and accessible healthcare delivery without compromising patient safety,” Dr Civil said.

“The guidelines have been designed to walk GPs and their teams through each of the steps required to successfully implement video consultations, without complicated explanations or technical jargon.”

Dr Civil said he had run regular telehealth clinics using video conferencing, which was rewarding for both his patients and his practice.

He also acknowledged that despite the many advantages associated with video consultations, getting started could often present a challenge initially.

Dr Civil has previously told the Australian Ageing Agenda magazine that he supports the idea of using video conferencing to improve access to GPs for older people in residential aged care facilities.

“Why couldn’t a patient in a nursing home or hostel environment, if they are supported by a nurse from the nursing home, have a video consultation with me as a GP? Currently you can’t do that, but that’s something I would really like to see happen – there would be huge benefits for those patients,” he said in the January-February 2012 issue of the magazine.

“I’m personally going to keep pushing that as a next step; I would like to see the [Medicare] item numbers to cover exactly that scenario.”

As yet, Medicare rebates have only supported telehealth video consultations between GPs and specialists, although government incentives have encouraged aged care facilties to invest in video conferencing equipment.

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