Medicare-funded doctor home visits threatened despite saving the Qld health system $100 million.
Medicare-funded doctor home visits threatened despite saving the Qld health system $100 million. Iain Curry

Fears mount that home-visit doctors are facing the axe

HOME visit doctors are calling for the Medicare rebate on their services to be preserved for the benefit of both patients and taxpayers.

The call comes after new research found that without access to after-hours visits by doctors to households and aged-care facilities the cost to the Queensland health system would be $100 million higher over the four years of the budget forward estimates.

This was mainly due to avoided emergency department and ambulance presentations.

The National Association of Medical Deputising Services, which represents home doctors, commissioned the Deloitte Access Economics report in response to calls for the home-visit Medicare rebate to be cut in the federal government's current Medicare Benefits Schedule Review.

In the past year there were 762,198 after-hours home doctor visits in Queensland.

President of the association, Dr Spiro Doukakis, said house calls by doctors were an efficient alternative to emergency departments outside GP business hours.

"This report shows that without this service, emergency departments would be inundated with new patients at heavy extra cost. Of course, this is precisely why the Howard Government reinvested in doctor home visits [through the Round the Clock initiative a decade ago] in the first place.

"Since 2005, lower acuity category 4 and 5 GP type presentations to Emergency have reduced from 54% to 47% of all presentations."

"Around 80% of Australians now have access to after-hours doctor home visits which is a national success story which should be celebrated.

"For parents of young children, carers of the elderly and people with disabilities, being able to call a doctor for a home visit when sickness strikes or accidents happen after-hours is crucial."

Have you called a doctor out for a home visit?

This poll ended on 30 November 2016.

Current Results

Yes, it's a great service.


No, I haven't needed too.


I didn't know the service existed.


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

The report compared the levels of home visits and low-urgency emergency department presentations on the Central Coast in New South Wales and the Gold Coast in Queensland - two areas which have similar demographics.

On the Gold Coast there were 82 home visits per 1000 people and 19 low-urgency emergency department presentations per 1000 people.

Whereas on the Central Coast home visits were lower, at two home visits per 1000 people, and there were much more low urgency emergency department cases, at 52 per 1000 people.

The case study shows that where there is higher use of home visits, there are less low-urgency cases in emergency departments.

Deloitte Access Economics' Lynne Pezzullo said: "A study of 50,000 patients who utilised home and ACF (Aged Care Facility) visits showed 94% would seek care using an alternative pathway if the service did not exist.

"Based on the preference information, the cost to the national health system would be $181 million higher compared with after-hours home and ACF visits. Over four years, this would be in the order of $724 million assuming no change in policy or volumes."

The report shows that the lowest cost options for patients seeking after hours care are extended and after hours only clinics at $93 and home and Aged Care Facility visits at $128 on average.

By comparison emergency departments are the most expensive option at $1351 if arriving by ambulance and $368 if self-presenting.

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