Six-minute minimum consults on the cards
DOCTORS will be forced to see patients for a minimum of six minutes under a federal government taskforce recommendation to stamp out “churn and earn” consultations.
At the same time, a new Medicare “super” item is under discussion where GPs would be paid for non-face-to-face consultations, such as those via email, phone or FaceTime.
Now, the timeframe for the most common Level B consultations is specified as lasting 20 minutes, with GPs receiving a $37 rebate. But, with no minimum, there were concerns some GPs in big bulk-billing medical centres were churning through patients at a faster rate, a government source said.
“The vast majority are not but, by setting a minimum, we are saying that the consultation must last at least six minutes,” the source said.
The proposed change, which the Australian Medical Association said distracts from the more serious issue of underfunding, is contained in a leaked Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce report obtained by the Sunday Mail, which is to be circulated among stakeholders.
The draft General Practice and Primary Care Clinical Committee report noted not all committee members agreed with the recommendation.
AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said the recommendation not only sent the wrong message to GPs that six minutes was a standard baseline, but distracted from the core issue of under-investment in general practice.
“It is trying to create a narrative that doctors are seeing patients in less than six minutes, which is anything but the truth,” he said.
“It is a distraction when what we need is genuine, significant investment in general practice. There is a lack of incentive or reward to have longer consultations because of the Medicare indexation freeze.”
Dr Andrew McDonald, who is a former NSW Labor MP, said: “It will stop the churn and burn, I guess, but I would challenge any GP to perform a proper consultation in six minutes.”
NSW Opposition health spokesman Walt Secord said there should not be mandated minimum or maximum time limits on a doctor’s Medicarefunded consultation.
As a sweetener to GPs, the Sunday Mail can reveal the Government is exploring adding a new Medicare item for consultations outside the clinic, with the heads of the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, MBS Review Taskforce chair Professor Bruce Robinson and the Health Department to meet over the proposal.
It is understood GPs would be paid for each session, so long as it met certain criteria.
“This super Medicare item will address a key gripe of GPs,” a government source said.