Over at Cafe Whispers I have been running the argument that Labor’s problem is that they over promise and under deliver on just about all of their grand schemes, even when they are a good idea. Their plan to have doctors consult with distant patients over the internet always struck me as being a good idea for a country as big as ours with a dispersed population, even though I did question the need for very high speed broadband to do it. However I was somewhat bemused by the revelation that it has been very under utilised.
The $620 million scheme that links doctors and patients via video-link was the centrepiece of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s 2010 election campaign launch.
It was promised the scheme would give patients outside major cities access to a specialist, with a target of 495,000 consultations by July 2015.
However, doctors – who received $6000 taxpayer-funded incentives to equip their surgeries to provide services via videoconferencing – delivered an average of five services each in the first year.
Just 16,000 specialist services were provided in the initial 12 months of the program and GPs provided patient back-up at the other end for 9000 of these services.
Take-up was low even though specialists who take part in telehealth receive a 50 per cent loading on their usual Medicare rebate and GPs receive a 35 per cent bonus.
And it came despite the government spending 43 per cent more than it had budgeted for on incentives for doctors to join the scheme.
A surge in demand from doctors blew the spending out from a budgeted spend of $12.3 million to $17.6 million in the year to June 2012.
Yet the government spent just one-tenth of the projected $30 million on Medicare rebates for patients under the telehealth program in the first year.
After such low initial usage, more than 13,000 services need to be provided every month to reach the government’s target of 495,000 consultations
The idea has merit, I have no trouble accepting that, however this is clearly another example of Labor shooting themselves in the foot by raising expectations too high in the quest for a big splash in the media and to acquire political momentum and then failing miserably to get anywhere near that claim in delivery. Surely their advisers and experts could have seen that the uptake would be slow and that the financial incentives not related to actual service delivery would be prone to rorting by doctors?
Once again Gillard and Labor are left with the brown smelly stuff all over their faces and it did not have to be so at all. Bigger is not always better when delivering your pitch for office, surely Labor will have learned from this and its many other debacles that the public a very tired of being promised the world and being delivered a handful of nothing.
- Telehealth scheme a $620m missing link (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- Digital consultation ‘helps patients’ (bigpondnews.com)
- Aboriginal community case study (resent with new link): Northern Territory integrates PCEHRs with telehealth (nacchocommunique.com)
- What would happen if Labor won the next election? (iainhall.wordpress.com)