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[10 min read] COVID-19 Update for GPs: Prof Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer

Important coronavirus (COVID-19) update for GPs from Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health

On Sunday, 29 March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Minister for Health Greg Hunt announced the expansion of Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians and extra incentives to general practitioners and other health practitioners.

The telehealth measures are the most significant change to health care delivery within Australia’s publicly funded health care system since Medicare was introduced.

The new MBS telehealth items will allow people to access essential Medicare funded health services in their homes, where it is clinically appropriate and safe to do so, and reduce their risk of COVID-19.

These initiatives, effective from now, will have a significant impact on the way we deliver care to our patients and help prevent the risk of spread of COVID-19 through medical waiting rooms. This significant initiative will protect both patients and health care providers. I thank all the peak bodies involved in developing these initiatives for their support with this expansion.

These new temporary MBS telehealth measures will be in place until September 30, when they will be reviewed. The new MBS items are available to providers for a wide range of consultations. All Medicare eligible Australians are now able to receive these services.

You are now able to conduct clinically relevant consultations via telehealth, both video and telephone.

These measures will not replace the need for face-to-face consultations for many of our patients. It is critical to stress that consultations may only be provided by telehealth where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so. At this time, the new services should be bulk billed and are for non-admitted patients.

Primary care is an essential front line in our efforts to stop the spread and impact of COVID-19. We need practices to stay open for essential services that can only be delivered in person. To this end, the GP bulk billing incentive for your patients who are concession card holders, or children under the age of 16 years, has been doubled for GPs in both rural and metropolitan areas. In addition, the Practice Incentive Program Quality Incentive has been doubled to ensure practices stay open to provide face to face services where they are required for patients with conditions that cannot be treated through telehealth.

Services covered include GP services and some consultation services provided by other medical specialists, nurse practitioners, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities and children with autism.

I encourage you to read the relevant information provided below in links below.

Thank you for everything that you are doing to protect your patients and your community, and for your commitment to continuing to provide high quality health care services for the people who trust you for their medical care and advice.

Professor Michael Kidd AM,
Principal Medical Advisory & Deputy Chief Medical Officer

1. Links to the information on the expansion of MBS Telehealth Items

All new Fact Sheets on the new telehealth measures, effective from 30 March, are available on MBS Online.

Key information for General Practitioners:

2. Practice Incentive Payments 

Temporary increases to incentive payments for general practices will increase support for bulk billed services and ensure patients keep access to essential face-to-face care. It is essential GP practices remain open and continue to provide vital primary care services to Australians.

The Practice Incentive Program (PIP) Quality Improvement (QI) Incentive has been temporarily amended to provide greater support to general practice business continuity during this time. GP Practices that open for face-to-face services for a minimum of four hours a day (or for part time practices for an average of 50% of their normal practice opening hours) will have their next two Practice Incentive Program Quality Improvement (PIPQI) payments doubled.

Participating practices will now receive $10 per SWPE (increased from $5 per SWPE), and the quarterly payment cap has been raised from $12,500 per quarter to $25,000 per quarter. These payments will be made on 1 May 2020 and 1 August 2020. Full details here.

3. Advice on Prescriptions

Doctors/pharmacists do not need to use fax as the ‘permitted form of communication’ in order to comply with privacy obligations. Communication can be via email and may be safer than fax. The Department will work quickly with the Information Commissioner, the Australian Cyber Security Centre and peak medical bodies on more detailed guidance for health providers on using emails and other forms of electronic communications.

Health providers should take all reasonable steps to protect patient privacy including confirming correct contact details are used and following up to ensure information has been received. General guidance from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on securing personal information is available here.

4. Infection Control Training

More than 300,000 people have completed the Department of Health’s Infection Control Training module. The online training provides critical information for everyone working in health care and will change the way you wash your hands forever.

Aged care specific modules have been added, to the infection control training with over 50,000 aged care workers already completing the training. If you can promote the Infection Control Training to your staff – covid-19training.gov.au

5. Update on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The Australian Government is securing a long-term supply of PPE including gowns, goggles and both P2 and surgical masks.
To date:

  • More than 10 million masks have been approved for distribution from the National medical Stockpile, with over 2.5 million already dispatched to PHNs.
  • 4.5 million extra masks have arrived in Australia in the last seven days with more expected over the coming days.

GPs are being urged to work with their PHNs and use available resources with caution and care.

6. COVID-19 testing criteria

Australia has one of the most rigorous coronavirus testing systems in the world. To further protect our population, National Cabinet has agreed to an Australian Health Principal Protection Committee (AHPPC) recommendation to expand the current coronavirus testing criteria to include testing of people with fever or acute respiratory infection including:

  • all health workers
  • all aged/residential care workers
  • geographically localised areas where there is elevated risk of community transmission as defined by the local public health unit
  • where no community transmission is occurring, high risk settings where there are two or more plausibly-linked cases, for example:
    • aged and residential care
    • rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
    • detention centres/correctional facilities
    • boarding schools
    • military bases (including Navy ships) that have live-in accommodation.

National Cabinet also agreed that testing will be expanded to include hospitalised patients with fever and acute respiratory symptoms of unknown cause, at the discretion of the treating clinician.

This is the minimum testing criteria. States and territories have the discretion to expand their own criteria for testing if they have testing capacity.

Detailed information on the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) National Guidelines on case definition, testing and case management is available on health.gov.au

Click here to download CDNA National Guidelines

Original source: https://mailchi.mp/health.gov.au/covid-19-update-for-gps-from-the-chief-medical-officer-xxxxxx-4372467?e=83862cc2c1

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