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Using e-health wisely to support medical practice

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At its recent meetings, the Economics and Workforce Committee turned its attention to two important aspects of e-health and medical practice: medical practitioner responsibilities with electronic communication of clinical information, and technology-based patient consultations.

Our considerations were prompted in part by broader interest in integrating e-health business solutions into medical practice. The Committee was also mindful of the need to ensure that relevant AMA policy was up to date and provided useful guidance for members as new technology becomes more widely used in medical practice.

The EWC developed new position statements on these matters which were approved by Federal Council at its November meeting and are now available on the AMA website.

The Position Statements are available at: position-statement/medical-practitioner-responsibilities-electronic-communication-clinical and


In relation to the electronic communication of clinical information, the Committee recognised that our need to communicate with our colleagues and health care provider organisations will increasingly involve using electronic communications to transmit and receive clinical information.

While the e-health agenda has been swamped by issues around the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record, secure electronic communication is a priority tool to support doctors in coordinating and managing quality health care for their patients.

The purpose of this Position Statement is to set out our responsibilities as medical practitioners to our colleagues with regards to the electronic communication of clinical information. These responsibilities apply to any clinical information communicated electronically using any technology.

EWC has recognised the inherent risk to doctors of an increased duty of care to patients if they receive clinical information electronically, particularly where this means that medical practitioners may have access to, but not be aware of (and therefore not able to act on), clinical information about patients.

EWC developed the Position Statement to guide medical practitioners using electronic communications for clinical information, firstly to highlight and secondly to minimise, that risk.

EWC also developed a position statement on Technology-based patient consultations. This updates and replaces the AMA Position Statement on Online and other Broadband Connected Medical Consultations 2006. The AMA Position Statement on Connectivity 2007 has been rescinded, as the clinical messaging and authentication systems sought in that Position Statement have been introduced.

The Committee recognised that technology-based patient consultations can improve patient access to care and enhance efficiency in medical practice. 

This Position Statement is a straightforward reckoning of the things to be taken into account when a medical practitioner is providing a consultation to a patient via technology.

It provides relevant information for medical practitioners when considering how to provide and set fees for such services, and for Government in respect of Medicare rebates for patients receiving a technology-based consultation.

One issue that EWC took a good look at was whether such consultations should only be provided where there is an established relationship between the patient and the doctor or practice. 

EWC noted that there is no available evidence to support such a requirement, and that mandating such a relationship would also exclude situations that AMA members may already be involved, in such as GP help lines or online medical practice.

The Position Statement makes clear that technology-based patient consultations complement, but do not replace, face-to-face consultations, and should be used as an adjunct to normal medical practice for regular patients of the practice. They should not be used in such a way as to fragment the ongoing care of the patient.

I recommend you take a (brief) moment to read these position statements. They provide very concise, practical and easy-to-understand guidance on the key issues for medical practice in these e-health-related areas.