GPs need better MBS rebate options for COVID-recovery phase
General practitioners will need longer consultations with patients and better MBS rebate options to adequately fulfil their role as “primary agents” in the post-COVID recovery phase, according to the Acting President of the RACGP, Associate Professor Dr Ayman Shenouda.
Shenouda says the COVID-19 recovery period may be a challenging time for GPs as they grapple with high patient volumes and a significant spike in chronic health conditions, arising from the virus.
“As we progress through the pandemic and beyond, the role of general practice will increasingly come to the fore,” Shenouda said.
“Many people will need extra support from their GP during this time, as they manage complex physical and mental health problems.
“I am concerned that the typical MBS patient rebate structure may not be adequate and will need revisiting as we navigate these unchartered waters.”
Although the vast majority of COVID-19 sufferers will completely recover within days or weeks, up to 20% will incur long-term health complications, according to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics.
Physical symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, headache and joint pain could persist for years, overlaid by an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, resulting from major organ damage — particularly the heart, brain and lungs.
Equally, GPs can expect an influx in chronic mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, as well as neurological difficulties, including brain fog and confusion.
Aside from the urgent risk posed by acute physical health problems, Shenouda is most concerned about the fallout in terms of mental health. He says patients presenting with mental health issues will need lengthier, more in-depth, GP consultations, beyond that offered by the current MBS patient rebate structure.
“It takes an awful lot of courage for somebody to see their GP about a mental health concern and patients will need to feel as though they are getting the appropriate levels of support when they do. It’s important that patients don’t feel as though they are ‘on the clock’ or being rushed through preliminary assessments by their trusted GPs,” he said.
“The current system is rewarding shorter consultations, which means GPs often don’t have enough time to spend with the patient. Servicing additional volume is important, but we equally need to think about the value of care provided.”
For this reason, Shenouda believes telehealth should continue to act only as a supplementary service, alongside in-person consults.
“The introduction of bulk-billable telehealth has been great, enabling more people to access general practice, more easily. We should always offer patients the opportunity for a telehealth session, but also exercise discretion, suggesting in-person consultations where appropriate. I believe mental health concerns, in particular, may warrant an in-person session with a GP,” he concluded.
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