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Blog: Medicare digital health grants open but sorely lacking in detail

21 April 2023
| 1 comment
By Kate McDonald

Applications for federal government’s $220 million Strengthening Medicare general practice grants program opened this week, with the primary health networks all contacting general practices in their regions to encourage them to apply. The grants are reasonably substantial in the scheme of things, although we reckon they won’t make the slightest difference to the perilous state in which primary care finds itself.

Practices are being asked to apply for grants of between $25,000 and $50,000, to be spent in three areas: one is for equipment or minor capital works to upgrade infection prevention and control, which will come in handy; and another is to pay for accreditation fees. The third area is aimed at enhancing digital health capability “to fast-track the benefits of a more connected healthcare system in readiness to meet future standards”.

Heaven knows what this actually means, as the Department of Health and Aged Care hasn’t clarified since we last asked for actual detail back in February. Is it for new clinical software? Can it be used to pay for existing licences for things like secure messaging? Do practices really need $50,000 to invest in equipment beyond a webcam for telehealth provision, considering they are able to use Healthdirect’s Coviu solution for free through a hefty subsidy from the government and they aren’t actually using video conferencing anyway?

General practices have been subsidised for years through the ePIP for the essentials in eHealth such as electronic transfer of prescriptions, secure messaging, clinical software and implementing the My Health Record and HI Service. What would be useful is some money to pay practice management staff for the time it takes them to negotiate the plethora of new B2G systems the department is rolling out. Granted, these will make everything simpler and faster in the future and are most welcome, but the time it takes practice managers to get their heads around quite complex new systems like Provider Connect Australia should be part of the grant funding. We doubt it is, but who knows, when the department refuses to provide more detail.

Once everyone is onboard with things like PRODA, PCA and the new GPMS system in aged care it all sounds great. In the meantime, progress in implementing these systems is stymied by red tape, administrative burden and a basic lack of time. Capital grants are great and are something politicians can boast about, but paying for training might be a better use of funds. Otherwise, the grants just look like a slush fund and a nice photo op for the local member.

Meanwhile this week, we had a really interesting story from the NSW North Coast, where the local PHN has developed a seriously impressive new 24-7 virtual care service called North Coast Health Direct that uses existing technologies like the HotDoc and HealthEngine booking systems and the National Health Services Directory to put patients in contact with existing GP and pharmacy service rather than send them off to hospital.

The PHN, Health North Coast, is using its own funds to pay GPs and pharmacies for their time, and is using the well-established Amplar Health (formerly Medibank Health Solutions) telehealth service for triage. Having pharmacists involved is something new, and the project is being studied over the next five years by Sydney’s the George Institute for Global Health, so it’s obvious the organisers are in for the long haul. PHNs around the country have been given discretion to commission these services as they see fit, and this one is something a little different and worth keeping an eye on.

Elsewhere, some of the big news particularly on the interoperability front has come from the annual HIMSS conference and exhibition in the US, this year taking place in Chicago. Microsoft and Epic announced they were partnering on OpenAI tools, while a big bunch of big healthcare providers and regulators including the US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced they were taking part in a new Interoperability and HIE Forum to share implementation tips and best practices to enable broader adoption of the FHIR standard. This was on the back of release five of the FHIR standard by HL7 International two weeks ago.

HIMSS itself announced the new of HIMSS Analytics’ maturity model for primary care and telehealth, dubbed the Community Care Outcomes Maturity Model (C-COM). It will be interesting to see if this model can be transferred to international markets like Australia and New Zealand, which differ significantly from the US model. HIMSS EMRAM and O-EMRAM are established models for acute care, but primary care is a different matter.

This week also saw the release of the full program for the MedInfo23 conference being held in Sydney in July, hosted by our very own Australasian Institute of Digital Health. We’ll be running more previews of this huge event over the coming months.

That brings us to our poll question for this week:

Is the digital health GP grants program a wise use of money?

Vote here or comment below.

Last week we asked: Do you think Medicare’s payments system needs a full redesign? Nine out of 10 said yes.

We also asked what exactly need to be done, and how can the existing systems be made more efficient.

Here’s what you said.

One comment on “Blog: Medicare digital health grants open but sorely lacking in detail”

  1. Are the digital health grants a wise use of money? The majority said no: 63 per cent to 37 per cent.

    We also asked: If yes, how will they help practices? If no, is there a better use for the money in digital health?

    Here’s what you said:

    – Managing information better, electronically in healthcare.

    – Specific programs and digital tools to improved collaboration integrated care with the wider sector

    – Just allow some financial support as we can’t afford new equipment

    – Upgrades to computer systems are often low on priorities list for struggling businesses. Important to encourage this.

    – Too much interference in health, too many dollars wasted on schemes and changes, eg: Dental Health, Care Plans, Health Care Plans, etc, etc. When these plans are there, everybody wants one. Is there any evidence that “Plans” are better than proper, responsible health care?

    – Digital health grants have already been occuring

    – Improved internet- optic cable, migrating to cloud computing for all services, more robust security

    – One off grants with poor compliance controls will get poor RoI & high level of rorting. The sector needs an increase in recurrent funding in return for agreed deliverables that meet public needs

    – NO – agree with your thoughts, funding for time of users and managers of the systems rather than equipment, + time for staff to assist receivers of service = funding support for ‘new’ models GP care and capacity building

    • Name - Pulse+IT

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