GPs welcome taskforce report on urgent after-hours home visit services

13 June, 2017

The body that represents over 90% of Australia’s GPs and fights for the interests of their patients, has welcomed the Australian Government’s review of urgent after-hours home visit services.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Dr Bastian Seidel says the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce’s Urgent after-hours primary care services funded through the MBS preliminary report, released for public consultation this morning, will help ensure patients continue to have access to high quality out of hours healthcare.

"The report recommends Medicare rebates should continue for home visits and after-hours home visits provided by GPs or medical deputising services that may specialise exclusively in after-hours home visits.

"However, it’s also recommending 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.

"This would deliver better outcomes for patients because the healthcare provided would be based on the GP’s deeper knowledge of the patient’s circumstances, better access to their health records and better follow-up to ensure continuity of care.

"The report also found that the current urgent after-hours arrangements supports low-value medical care and doesn’t represent value for money for the taxpayer.

"The report considered Medicare usage data and the expert opinion of professional medical organisations including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Australian Medical Association, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia."

Other findings include:

  • most urgent after-hours services are currently being provided by medical deputising services
  • the growth in urgent after-hours services is not being driven by increasing clinical need
  • many urgent after-hours services claimed as urgent are not truly urgent
  • an increase in urgent after-hours home visits has not had a significant impact on reducing hospital emergency department services
  • the increasing use of higher rebates for urgent after-hours services by medical deputising services interferes with continuity of care by a patient’s regular GP and these services are often provided by less qualified clinicians.

Dr Seidel says "this report is a positive step towards better supporting continuity of care between patients and their regular GPs. The RACGP will continue to work with the Australian Government, patients, and other professional medical organisations to ensure we get the best outcomes possible from the MBS Review.

"Raising the profile of preventative healthcare has helped GPs and the community put pressure on the Australian Government to improve the quality and reduce the cost of after-hours services, review the Medicare Benefits Scheme and end the Medicare rebate freeze.

"We’re hoping this report signals a further shift by the Australian Government towards preventative healthcare and building a world class health system."