CFC on new telehealth guidelines

They come into effect next month

CFC on new telehealth guidelines

Life & Health

By Daniel Wood

On September 1, the Medical Board of Australia’s revised telehealth guidelines will come into effect. Among the changes: a patient will be able to consult a doctor for the first time using telehealth, without first having an in-person consultation. Doctors will also be able to issue new and repeat prescriptions as part of a telehealth consultation. 

CFC Underwriting, a global underwriting agency in the health space, says the new guidelines could have a major impact on some telehealth providers and their insurance needs. London-based Rocky Ruperto (pictured above), one of the firm’s underwriters and a healthcare sector specialist, recently visited Australia to prepare local brokers for the changes.

First telehealth guidelines update since 2012

Ruperto said this is the first significant update to telehealth guidelines for doctors in more than 10 years.

“Those guidelines, when they were written and published in 2012, could never have foreseen what was to come and the huge take-up of telehealth across Australia and internationally,” he said.

When Insurance Business asked Ruperto if Australia has seen a big uptick in telehealth offerings since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, he agreed. Ruperto said today there are “so many more consultations” being conducted using telehealth.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that 30% of Australians had a telehealth consultation last year.

“That’s supported by the government and permanent Medicare items now to support telehealth,” he said.

According to the Department of Health and Aged Care, during 2022 telehealth services covered by Medicare, which had already grown during the pandemic, expanded again as a response to public health needs in flood-affected areas.

“Telehealth has been transformational to Australia’s universal healthcare program, Medicare,” says the Department of Health website. “It has played a critical role in ensuring the continuity of care for hundreds of thousands of Australian patients.”

Ruperto said doctors were calling out for guidance.

“This wasn’t something they were used to before COVID because healthcare was mainly delivered face to face,” he said.

New guidelines “quite prescriptive”

Ruperto said the new guidelines tackle patient safety issues and are “quite prescriptive.” He said they set basic standards for telehealth consultations including conducting them in a quiet room, establishing backup plans if the technology fails and ensuring doctors identify themselves to their patients as medical practitioners.

“Our brokers could be looking after individual doctors but we also work with the big international brokerages who are looking after huge telehealth and digital health companies,” said Ruperto. “They’re obviously very interested in how these guidelines affect their clients.”

Current insurance covers can be restrictive

One impact, said Ruperto, is a result of existing telehealth covers in many local policies being “restricted.”

“I think that there are insurance policies out there which are probably more restrictive than what the Medical Board has said is acceptable,” he said.

Ruperto said he believes CFC is the first local insurer to provide “an appropriate insurance solution” for doctors and firms that covers their operations in both the telehealth space and in more traditional health services.

“We look to cover the bodily injury and the healthcare side, whether through telehealth or face to face, also cyber cover and financial loss arising from technology failures,” he said. “It really does cover these organizations who are operating at that interface of health and technology.”

Ruperto said doctors that have some telehealth coverage could find that what they currently do doesn’t match their insurance.

“Now that they’ve [doctors] started really turning their minds to telehealth they are examining their policy wording in a little bit more detail and realizing that what they do doesn’t quite fit their insurance policy coverages,” he said.

One example that’s a particular issue for telehealth, he said, concerns health companies that operate across borders.

“A lot of local insurance policies may only allow their companies to operate within Australia,” said Ruperto. “Given that the very essence of telehealth is that it can go internationally as well, that’s something people should look out for.”

Telehealth guidelines are just the start

At this stage, he said, the guidelines only apply to doctors and telehealth services.

“Telehealth is one piece of digital health, so the guidelines don’t regulate things like remote patient monitoring, or tele education, or the use of artificial intelligence,” said Ruperto. “Telehealth really is the start.”

He said all areas of digital health are currently experiencing “huge growth.” Ruperto said Australia is a leader in the telehealth space and was ahead of many other countries for quickly facilitating electronic prescriptions.

“I think we’ve been able to create a quite a sound process and patient journey within telehealth,” he said. “But I think there are other countries investing more in things like artificial intelligence or remote patient monitoring.”

According to Insights10 market research, Australia’s telemedicine market, worth about $720 million in 2022, is expected to more than quadruple in size by 2030 and reach more than $3 billion in value.

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