It has emerged the National Home Doctor Service has met with Federal Department of Health officials to discuss the sector's contribution to healthcare. The company says it has figures showing that low-acuity presentations to EDs have stabilised in the wake of the deputising boom.
The move comes amid rumours that the government will attempt to save cash and cut the number of Medicare-funded home visits by tighten up the wording of the item descriptor for 597.
Dr Brian Morton, chair of the AMA's council of general practice, said: "I expect the government will summarily change the descriptor to limit use of that item. It doesn't need to go to Parliament to be approved; it can be done through regulation."
The boom time for after-hours services has been fuelled by companies advertising bulk-billed home visits on TV and radio.
A 2014 government review into after-hours services raised concerns about the growing costs. It suggested that some medical deputing services may be "overzealous in turning calls into home visits" to generate income. It said that patients should be accessing after-hours care through their regular general practice, rather than via direct marketing.
The National Home Doctor Service is currently the largest after-hours player in Australia, with 700-800 doctors on its books, of whom 40% are VR-GPs. It is currently launching its own national TV ad campaign about its services.
CEO Ben Keneally told Australian Doctor: "We've got very strong evidence that what we do reduces costs to the system, by reducing pressure on emergency departments." He denied the presentation was linked to the ongoing Medicare review and stressed he had not heard rumours that Item 597 was being singled out for change."