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Planned telehealth expansion welcome, but must look beyond doctors alone

23 March 2020

Four leading health organisations have urged the Government to expand telehealth to nurses to reduce COVID-19 infection risks and support care of chronically ill people at home.

Today’s ‘stage 3’ announcement by Health Minister Greg Hunt allows vulnerable general practitioners and health professionals currently authorised to use telehealth item numbers to use telehealth for all consultations with all their patients.

Given South Korea has shown how effective telehealth can be in responding to COVID-19, this is most welcome’, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said.

We also welcome the government’s intention to move to “Stage 4”, involving four doctors organisations in co-designing “best practice expansion of telehealth items for all patients, with or without COVID-19, to see any general practitioner, medical specialist, mental health or allied health professional during the COVID-19 health emergency’.

We do have the following concerns, however, with the government’s planned “stage 4”:

  1. Nurses are not included among health professionals who can be consulted using telehealth items.
  2. Only doctors organisations are named as being involved in the ‘co-design’—for a “best practice” result, we think that organisations representing consumers, and hospital and other healthcare workers should also be included.
  3. There is no date given by which Stage 4 will be implemented.

Consumers Health Forum CEO Leanne Wells said ‘At a time where we want people with complex chronic conditions to be supported to self-manage effectively from home, it is important that the primary care nursing workforce is supported by appropriate funding and service models such as telehealth.

Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association President Karen Booth said ‘Telehealth for nurses will mean that more Australians will get faster access to the urgent healthcare they need.

Ms Verhoeven said that while it was imperative to move quickly to Stage 4 in the current circumstances, Australians needed a telehealth system that worked as effectively as possible, which would necessarily include getting the views of hospitals, health worker and consumer organisations.

It will be a very small amount of extra time very well spent given that our health system and front-line staff are facing potential significant overload and are at risk’, Ms Verhoeven said.

At a time when all health services are extremely stretched there needs to be telehealth support for advanced care planning, team care and other innovative care models—for example, registered nurses in community and residential aged care’.

Australasian Institute of Digital Health CEO Dr Louise Schaper added: ‘In the interests of flattening the curve, we want to see virtual-first access for all clinicians, nurses and allied healthcare professionals’.

Supported by: Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Consumers Health Forum, Australasian Institute of Digital Health, Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association.