Six-minute min­i­mum con­sults on the cards

Sunday Mail - - NEWS -

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.

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