Planets start aligning for GP telemedicine

6 minute read

  Telemedicine and tele-consultations might be set for a boom as the technology, commercial interest and doctor acceptance all start to kick in GPs appear to be shifting their views on  tele-consultations with the technology being identified as the second most important  that can help them improve patient outcomes in a survey released by Medical […]


Telemedicine and tele-consultations might be set for a boom as the technology, commercial interest and doctor acceptance all start to kick in

GPs appear to be shifting their views on  tele-consultations with the technology being identified as the second most important  that can help them improve patient outcomes in a survey released by Medical Director last week.

The only technology with greater immediate potential was online booking services and appointment kiosks with more than 30% of GPs saying this ranked as the No1 technology to engage with, closely followed by telemedicine on 24.65%. Notably the acceptance of telemedicine as an emerging technology by GPs increased by more than 25% over last year’s survey.

Currently, GP telemedicine in Australia is relatively low frequency and hugely fragmented, with some practices across the country offering the service to existing patients through bespoke systems. Centralised services also are starting to emerge through Telstra’s ReadyCare, and a raft of start-ups, such as Doctus.

When Telstra launched it’s telemedicine service ReadyCare last year it’s CEO  Shane Solomon said  he felt it was only a matter of time before the government decided to fund tele-consults at the GP level, but debate has since raged over the effectiveness that government-rebated tele-consults might bring.

Some believe such a move will likely lead to the same sort of fuss that has recently emerged over after-hours rebates for “urgent” services and that rebating telemedicine at this level will put too much cost pressure on an already overburdened system.

But key Australian GP technology providers aren’t waiting. All the major patient-management systems (PMS) are currently gearing up to offer telemedicine to practices as a standard part of their package. This will likely see established bespoke solutions  such as come under considerable commercial pressure, especially as cloud-based patient-management versions of the major PMSs start to take off and communications are standardised for GPs over the cloud.

The march of the patient-management systems into telemedicine is also likely to quickly rationalise the slew of start-ups in the sector offering various tele-services as doctors with one of either MediRecords, Medical Director of Best Practice  will have access to the service from their own desktop, and in the case of cloud versions of these systems, a whole lot of other devices in any location.

Easy access to tele-consult technology through their PMS offers immediate benefits to most practices in the form of time-saving and additional income during the ongoing rebate freeze.  The benefits to patients include saving time on a visit to the surgery for a repeat prescriptions, referrals, test follow-ups and simple consults.

According to MediRecords chief executive Jon Marshall, the low acceptance of tele-consults from the GP side to date has largely been technology dictated.

“Things are about to change considerably,” he told The Medical Republic. “With a cloud-based patient management system , GPs will have access anytime, anywhere. That will open up the opportunity for easily servicing patients at odd times and offer a chance to increase practice income, rebate or not.”

“Key will be the signing up large numbers of their patients to their practice mobile app, which will talk directly to their practice PMS and allow for telemedicine between a patient and a doctor while both are literally on the run. It will, of course, also start to take over the bookings systems of surgeries as well.”

MediRecords is the first completely cloud-based patient management system on the market having launched formally just a few months ago. It is believed that the group already has a user base of more than 100.

Phil Offer, CEO of MedicalDirector, one of the two largest established PMS vendors, told TMR, that telemedicine was really starting to resonate with GPs. He said that the overall change in GPs attitudes towards technology, particularly cloud technology, had changed significantly over the last year.

“The level of acceptance of new technologies has increased dramatically,” he told TMR. ” It is now just a matter of where adoption of the technology fits into their priorities.”

MedicalDirector has announced a cloud version of their software is soon to be available and Offer confirmed that the group was currently working on a telemedicine module for both the cloud and desktop versions of the system.

The other big player, Best Practice, has announced that they are developing a cloud version but a spokesperson for the group said  recently that it would not be available for at least another 12 months.

Telemedicine is undergoing massive adoption in the US and Europe, and the global telemedicine market has been forecast to grow to more than $38 billion by 2020, so there is considerable interest in the technology from big commercial players such as Telstra.

According to the American Telemedicine Association more than 15 million Americans received some kind of medical care remotely last year, and this number is expected to grow by 30% this year. At the same time 1.2m Americans are expected to have a virtual visit by their doctor this year.

In a poll of 1,500 family physicians, reported in the Wall Street Journal last week, 15% had had already used telemedicine in their practices and 90% said they would it if were appropriately reimbursed.

The fastest-growing services in telemedicine in the US connect consumers with clinicians they’ve never met for one-time consults around the clock. Such services are mainly for minor issues such as colds, flu, earaches and skin rashes, and they cost around $45 US. Like Australia, the relative costs of a tele-consult for such conditions are significantly below a patient presenting to a GP practice or a hospital.

In the US most virtual doctor visits are conducted by start-ups with names like Doctor on Demand and American Well.

Australia, too, has a slew of doctor-on-demand start-ups, including one just for sick notes,  but these are likely to be quickly subsumed by the big PMS providers as they go to cloud. In the US, general practice doctors aren’t serviced well by computer software like they are in Australia, so the likelihood of centralised 24-hour service start-ups succeeding here is significantly lower. Australia also now has a burgeoning “after hours” doctor industry, serviced by a few well-financed groups.

Between tele-consulting and after hours the potential savings to the healthcare system might be huge. But there is resistance to from the main GP groups, based primarily on the quality of care and the funding model. With after hours groups growing rapidly peak GP bodies worry that funding for items which aren’t actually urgent might be diverted from the main GP sector.

What are you views on telemedicine as a GP? Take TMR’s exclusive GP Telemedicine survey HERE for your chance to win your choice of either a Macbook Air or an iPad Pro – both of which we assume you will be able to use when you move to a cloud PMS.

The survey only takes a few minutes and your details will be kept completely confidential.


















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