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[8 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

Thank you for the extraordinary work you are doing to protect the health and wellbeing of the people of Australia. 

As well as tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential we all continue to provide the services our patients need to manage acute conditions, chronic conditions, mental health conditions; the entire breadth of work we do in general practice on a daily basis.

There are many reports of exceptional innovation and agility from general practices across Australia as we all adapt to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Your commitment to continuing to provide outstanding care is a source of reassurance, comfort and inspiration to your patients and your communities.

My sincere thanks again to you all for everything you are doing, and please look after yourselves as well.

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

1. Flu vaccinations

We understand many practices have been inundated with people wanting to book in for their annual influenza vaccine.

All states and territories are currently distributing the National Immunisation Program (NIP) influenza vaccinations.

The Commonwealth Department of Health is working closely with our state and territory colleagues, as well as vaccine suppliers, to actively manage supplies of influenza vaccines and ensure they are distributed to where they are needed, including to the nation’s general practices.

More than 13.5 million influenza vaccine doses have already been secured for the Australian market. This includes more than 8.5 million doses for the NIP – more than 4 million of which are Fluad Quad® which is specifically formulated for those aged 65 years and older.

We appreciate there is a heightened sense of anxiety among many people in the community about the importance of being vaccinated this year against influenza. Patients are being encouraged to call ahead to ensure you have sufficient supply of vaccines and, if possible, to make an appointment to attend for immunisation. GPs are encouraged to reassure their patients there is plenty of time to receive a vaccine over the coming two months ahead of the expected start of the influenza season.

2. GP-led respiratory clinics opening around Australia

Good progress is being made with establishing GP-led respiratory clinics around the country, with seven now open. There are three in Queensland, two in New South Wales and two in Victoria, with many more in all states and territories in the final stages of preparation and expected to commence operations over coming days.

Thanks to all our colleagues who are showing great leadership, in metropolitan and rural areas, in the implementation of this important component of our national COVID-19 response.

The number of GP-led respiratory clinics is growing quickly, with 100 expected to be operational in the coming weeks to provide dedicated services to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. These clinics complement the services available through state and territory fever clinics, public hospitals and general practice.

Respiratory clinics will reduce the risk of further transmission of COVID-19, help to optimise the use of available stocks of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and help reduce the pressure on other general practice services and hospital emergency departments.

The 31 Primary Health Networks around Australia are working with local hospital districts to determine the most appropriate locations for these clinics right across the country.

The Department is also working with the Royal Flying Doctor Service on ensuring primary health care support in remote areas of Australia.

Australian Government funding has been provided for clinic establishment, ongoing operations for clinical assessment and, if needed, testing of patients. Further information and booking links for the clinics as they open is available at health.gov.au.

3. Telehealth updates: Frequently asked questions

It is now three weeks since the introduction of MBS telehealth items and in that time, there has been progressive expansion of the program with over 1.5 million telehealth consultations between the people of Australia and their chosen health care providers. The expanded telehealth eligibility and item numbers are increasing treatment options for general practitioners and their patients across Australia.

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

Here are the answers to some of the questions we’re hearing most commonly.

Do I use my regular provider number even if I am consulting from a location outside my practice?
Providers do not need to be in their regular practice to provide telehealth services. Providers should use their provider number for their primary location, and must provide safe services in accordance with normal professional standards. Face to face consultations must be able to be organised by the provider whenever required.

Which platforms are approved for telehealth?
Video consultation services are the preferred approach for substituting a face-to-face consultation. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providers are also able to offer audio-only services via telephone when video is not available. There are separate items available for the audio-only services.

No specific equipment is required to provide Medicare-compliant telehealth services. Services can be provided through widely available video calling apps and software.

Free versions of these applications (i.e. non-commercial versions) may not meet applicable laws for security and privacy. GPs and other providers must ensure their chosen telecommunications solution meets their clinical requirements and satisfies privacy laws.

Key information for GPs:

4. Hand sanitiser and disinfectants guidance

Hand sanitiser:
The Australian Government recommends the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, in order to protect against infection and prevent the virus spreading.

Alcohol-free hand rubs have not been shown to be effective against viruses like COVID-19, and experts recommend against using them.
Find more good hygiene tips here.

The Australian Government Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced this week it was cutting red tape on the manufacturing of hand sanitiser to bolster supplies. Read more here.

Cleaning and disinfectants:

  • The disinfectant used for cleaning surfaces should be one for which the manufacturer claims antiviral activity, meaning it can kill the virus, such as chlorine-based disinfectants which are commonly used.
  • Ready-made disinfection products can be used, if available. Diluted bleach or disinfectants listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods that have virucidal claims can be used.
  • If using freshly made bleach solution, follow manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate dilution and use. Note that prediluted bleach solutions lose potency over time and on exposure to sunlight.
  • Wipe the area with bleach solution while wearing gloves and using disposable paper towels or a disposable cloth.
  • Dispose of gloves and mask in a leak proof plastic bag.
  • Wash hands well using soap and water afterwards and dry with disposable paper or single-use cloth towel. If water is unavailable, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub.

Read more here

5. Journal articles and resources of interest

Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service
Last week we introduced the new COVID-19 resource from the University of Oxford providing evidence-based answers to common questions arising in general practice.

Here are three key questions you may consider when treating a patient with possible COVID-19.

  1. What is the efficacy of standard face masks compared to respirator masks in preventing COVID-type respiratory illnesses in primary care staff? Answer available here.
  2. Are there any evidence-based ways of assessing dyspnoea (breathlessness) by telephone or video? Answer available here. 
  3. How do you manage fever in adults with possible or confirmed COVID-19 in primary care? Answer available here. 

Australia’s COVID-19 primary care response
This editorial, published in the Australian Journal of General Practice this week, describes Australia’s national primary care response to COVID-19. It highlights the key elements of Australia’s response and support measures, and the important role general practices, in particular, are playing in caring for all members of our nation, including our most vulnerable citizens.

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

See last week’s update from Professor Michael Kidd here.

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