Medical groups have largely welcomed a shake up of after-hours doctor visits recommended by the Federal Government’s Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce.
Under the proposed changes, Medicare rebates would continue for home visits and after-hour visits provided by general practitioners or after-hours doctors services.
But the higher rebates for “urgent after-hours services should only be payable to GPs who normally work during the day and believe a patient needs to see a doctor urgently,” the taskforce found.
The report found “many urgent after-hours services claimed as urgent are not truly urgent … and the distinction between ‘urgent’ and ‘non-urgent’ appears to be not well understood by many medical practitioners”.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Bastian Seidel said the report was a positive step towards better supporting continuity of care between patients and their regular GPs.
Investigations into the inappropriate use of Medicare rebates found some practitioners were claiming for urgent services which could “more appropriately be managed through ordinary GP attendances,” the report found.
After-hours doctor visits were also likely to be provided by less qualified doctors.
A spokesman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said the taskforce found the 150 per cent increase in use of urgent after hours services was not driven by clinical need but rather by the emergence of businesses that promote these services.
“This significant growth has not resulted in a reduction in hospital visits, as was envisaged,” he said.
“We don’t want a situation where corporate giants are simply using the system to make money and take it out of the pockets of GPs in a way that hurts GPs, hurts general practice, and isn’t providing quality.”
After hours doctors shouldn’t replace regular GP: AMA
Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon said after-hours services should complement the services provided by a patient’s usual GP or general practice, not displace them.
“If a patient can wait until the next day to see their usual GP or attend their usual general practice, then that is the best option,” he said.
“Their usual GP will be able to provide more comprehensive care — with immediate access to a patient’s history and a better understanding of a patient’s health care needs for things like allergies or medications, for example.”
The findings of the review are open for public consultation. Once that is complete, Health Minister Greg Hunt will consider implementing recommendations.