CEO Primary Matters – 2 December 2020

Welcoming the Continuation of Medicare-subsidised Telehealth Services in Australia

Last week’s announcement that telehealth services will become a permanent fixture of Australia’s Medicare system is a turning point for primary health care.

As long-time advocates for telehealth, Western Victoria PHN (WVPHN) sees Minister Hunt’s announcement as terrific news for our primary health care providers and the thousands of patients in western Victoria who have embraced telehealth services as a viable alternative to face-to-face consultations.

Western Victoria’s general practitioners, nurses and allied health professionals have clearly told us that a shining light during the COVID-19 pandemic this year has been the ability to access telehealth. A survey of primary health providers in our region found 100 per cent of respondents agreed that telehealth should be here to stay. However, we need to be objective about what value it brings to healthcare as well as understanding its limitations. Telehealth has been vital for maintaining connections between health professionals and patients during COVID-19, but we believe it should never be considered a substitute for face-to-face consultations.

We need to ensure that patients across our region have not been disadvantaged during the year, when they have not been able to access face-to-face consultations with their GP. At the same time, how do we make telehealth equitable for people with special needs? And what do we need to do to ensure patients’ preferences are considered?

WVPHN will continue to liaise with the Commonwealth Government to ensure the views of our community are taken into account as the digital health field expands.

Countering COVID, one ECHO at a time

The final COVID-19 Project ECHO session for 2020 wrapped up last week and I wanted to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you and congratulations for the incredible contribution the team made to the WVPHN COVID-19 pandemic response.

The WVPHN Project ECHO COVID-19 planning team, Dr Kate Graham (GP and WVPHN Health Pathway Clinical Advisor), Dr Bianca Forrester (GP and session facilitator) and a multitude of other expert presenters made these sessions a roaring success to help connect local health practitioners with relevant experts and improve the flow of information and knowledge to support wider efforts to better understand and combat the pandemic.

Across the three seasons of the series, there were:

  • 31 sessions
  • 275 overall participants, with an average of 61 per session from 141 organisations across western Victoria
  • 35 per cent of participants were GPs

These sessions were held at 7.30am on Thursday mornings and were always professionally run with timely content and fantastic contributions from the participants. This has been an important part of WVPHN’s COVID-19 response and has also demonstrated the importance of the Project ECHO platform for building the capacity of our primary care providers.

Well done and thank you to all involved. Please regularly check our Project ECHO COVID-19 webpage for updates on 2021 series registration and for access to previous session podcasts.

WVPHN Christmas Closure

I wish to inform you all that WVPHN will close for the Christmas and New Year’s break from 12 noon on Thursday 24 December and will reopen on Monday 4 January 2021.

I want to thank all of you for your commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our communities through all of the challenges that have been thrown our way. Primary care is the true frontline of health care and I know many of you have gone above and beyond for your patients and clients. We hope that you are all able to get a bit of rest and respite at year’s end to reset for 2021.

Take care and stay safe.

Rowena Clift

Chief Executive Officer