Digital health can ease burden on system
The digital health care industry will ease the burden on a system struggling with a shortage of GPs. (AP PHOTO)
Telephone doctor consultations came to the fore during lockdowns and now the digital health care industry is being touted as a way to ease the burden on a system struggling with a chronic shortage of GPs.
A new report has found the online model of medicine could save the Commonwealth government more than $800 million a year in reduced short-consultation demand on the Medicare subsidised system.
It comes as medical clinics in regional Australia struggle to attract doctors. The problem is also increasingly being felt in cities, as a diminishing percentage of medical graduates choose to become general practitioners.
The report by Tony Sherbon, former CEO of the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority and former CEO of the SA Health Department, was commissioned by InstantScripts – a company that provides telehealth consultations, online prescriptions, pathology requests and medical certificates.
It found digital health care models such as InstantScripts – which provides an average of 3300 short primary care services per day – had the potential to cater for about 60,000 short primary care consultations a day.
That would divert about 21 million consultations a year from overworked general practices.
“At a cost to government of around $39 per short consultation, it is conceivable that this model could save the Commonwealth government over $800 million per annum in reduced short consultation demand on the Medicare subsidised system,” the report said.
The online digital health model could also free up time for GPs who say many short consultations are for routine repeat prescriptions and medical certificates.
“Recently, a rural GP complained publicly that ‘the challenge for doctors and nurses and hospitals and GPs is we’re overwhelmed with people’s coughs, colds and runny noses, wanting medical certificates’,” the report says.
The online model allows patients to access primary care services more conveniently and in an environment that encourages them to discuss their most confidential issues, as well as avoid long delays in crowded waiting rooms.
Participating doctors can access flexible work arrangements in an environment that suits those with other commitments.
It also provides a safe work environment for immuno-compromised medical practitioners.
Market research commissioned by InstantScripts found 53 per cent of respondents to a survey of more than 1400 people expressed a preference for telephone doctor consultations over face-to-face because it was “faster than seeing a doctor”.
Forty-eight per cent preferred the convenience of not leaving home, and 33 per cent said it saved time, but 18 per cent were deterred by the lack of bulk billing.
Dr Sherbon says the model has great potential to increase GP services in regional and remote areas.
“Regional and rural Australians experience great difficulty accessing primary care services, particularly after hours,” he said.
“The InstantScripts model should provide a pathway for governments and communities to provide access for their regional and rural residents to primary care.”
Australian Associated Press