Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is calling on the Federal Government to defer changes to Telehealth that will limit access to telephone consultations with specialists from January 1, 2022.
As COVID-19 cases once again place pressure on the healthcare system, BCNA considers it too soon to remove certain telephone Telehealth items from the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and unrealistic to expect patients to attend face-to-face appointments or restrict them to telehealth via video. Cancer Australia data indicates only two to five per cent of monthly specialist services were delivered by telehealth video conference in the first part of 2020, compared with ten to 24 per cent via phone.
BCNA is concerned the MBS changes will disadvantage people with breast cancer, especially those in rural and remote areas with poor or no internet connection as well as the elderly and other groups with low digital literacy.
Kathy Bell, a BCNA Consumer Representative says, “Some people live in rural and remote areas where limited bandwidth makes videoconferencing really unreliable or even impossible; other people, especially older people, might have issues with using the technology. Patients need to be able to make an informed choice about how to access their care. We need to make sure that any changes to telehealth don’t disadvantage vulnerable patients with cancer, especially when many people are already feeling overwhelmed by dealing with cancer treatment in the midst of a raging pandemic.”
BCNA welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement earlier this month that Telehealth will be a permanent fixture in our health system. Where possible the preference for optimal cancer care is face-to-face consultations but as COVID- 19 continues to impact Australia’s health system, BCNA is concerned that limiting access to telephone consultations combined with current workforce shortages, will prevent those with breast cancer in accessing optimal care.
Vicki Durston, Director Policy, Advocacy & Member Support at BCNA says, “We recognise the value of telehealth when appropriate and support the Australian Government’s commitment to its continued use. However, we request a deferral to these changes and more time for clinicians and consumers to have a seat at the table to inform decisions that affect cancer care. This is of particular concern to our network of women and men with breast cancer who have relied heavily on telehealth over the past two years for their treatment and follow up care.”
BCNA is among many cancer organisations supporting the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia’s (COSA) recommendation to reconsider the implementation of the MBS changes and to allow more time for clinicians and consumers to understand what they mean.
If you have concerns about your Telehealth appointments, BCNA recommends contacting your treatment team as soon as possible. BCNA will continue to keep its network up to date with relevant policy changes.