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Doctor’s orders: agencies asked to ‘keep it simple’

The Australian Medical Association is asking government agencies to rethink the complexity of the forms they require to determine patient entitlements, and convert forms to digital formats.

Accuracy is important, AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis says, but the demands have become a costly “red tape headache” for doctors:

“We understand that organisations depend heavily upon the accurate completion of medical forms to determine patient entitlements. Unfortunately, many organisations fail to appreciate the real time implications for doctors having to complete these forms. Doctors prefer spending time on patient care, not bureaucracy. Inefficiencies and excessive red tape can become a heavy burden on doctors, diverting their time away from providing essential medical care for patients.”

The AMA and its Victorian branch have produced a list of 10-standard guide for agencies, such as Centrelink, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and the state and territory WorkCover authorities. Parnis says they can help doctors help agencies:

“The AMA believes that medical forms can be designed in a way that captures the necessary information in a more simple and concise way … The key is to focus on obtaining necessary information that is easily accessible, and which does not require doctors and medical practices spending excessive time filling in forms.”

The guide is based on surveys of general practices across Australia, conducted in 2011, which found completing forms for Centrelink forms, third party/WorkCover requirements and DVA forms were ranked among the top six areas of “red tape headache”.

GPs’ offices are increasingly digitised, and having government forms in standardised electronic format is something doctors and their staff are seeking. But not all agencies have made the shift yet, and for those that haven’t, this is also an opportunity to rethink the complexity and detail being asked. Similar to how Standard Business Report cut red tape for businesses by working with accounting software developments, the medical community is asking for benefits agencies to work with medical software vendors to make the these requests easier for GPs.

The AMA says the standards are intended to instruct, guide, and measure the performance of organisations that rely upon doctors to assist the effective conduct of their business or programs. The AMA’s 10 minimum standards for medical forms are:

Available & Accessible

  • The form is available in an electronic format that is compatible with existing electronic general practice medical records software.
  • Forms are distributed through medical software vendors. Access to forms does not require web surfing during consultations, nor form-filling online.

Value GP Time

  • The form has a clear notation that states that medical practitioners may charge a reasonable fee for their services and whether the services are rebatable by Medicare or other insurers.

Not Onerous & Respect Privacy

  • Demographic and medical data can be selected to automatically populate the electronic form with adequate space being provided for comments.
  • Only information essential for the purpose is requested and must not unnecessarily intrude upon patient privacy.
  •  Forms do not require the doctor to supply information when a patient can reasonably provide this in their own right.

Easy to Administer

  • A copy is saved in the patient electronic medical file for future reference.
  • Data file storage size is kept to a minimum.
  • Prior to their release, forms are field tested under the auspices of a recognised medical representative organisation such as the AMA and the RACGP, in association with the MSIA (Medical Software Industry Association).
  • Consideration should be given to future compliance with encrypted electronics transmission capability, in line with new technologies being introduced into general practice.

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.