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Telehealth should cover specialist appointments: AMA

The Australian Medical Association doesn't agree with a proposal to scrap Medicare funding for initial telehealth appointments with non-GP specialists.

Axing Medicare funding for telehealth appointments with specialists is a "cost-cutting exercise" that could harm vulnerable patients and those in the regions, doctors say.

The Australian Medical Association has made the argument in a submission to a review of what services should be covered by telehealth funding.

The committee in charge has recommended only initial face-to-face consultations with non-GP specialists should be covered by Medicare, with follow-up appointments covered at the doctor's discretion.

AMA president Steve Robson said there were serious concerns among professionals about the proposal.

"There are serious concerns amongst the profession about the proposed removal of funding for an initial consultation with a specialist," Professor Robson said.

"Removing this funding will make it more difficult for patients to access healthcare in a timely fashion, while some patients will have to travel hundreds of kilometres to see a specialist."

Professor Robson suggested the Medicare Benefits Schedule review committee was dismissing research that showed the huge benefits of telehealth.

Those benefits included $1.35 billion saved in reduced travel in 2021-22.

"While face-to-face care remains a critical part of good medical practice, the access these items provide is incredibly valuable," the AMA submission reads.

"This proposal … is not patient-focused, ignores patient need, and ignores the determination of the clinician that it is appropriate and often the most efficient means of organising a patient's care."

The committee is expected to give final recommendations to the federal government later this year.


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