Call for action on funding for remote heart monitoring

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A patient group is calling on the government to act to require private health insurers to fund patient access to remote heart monitoring.

There are approximately 20,000 Australians living with defibrillator or pacemaker devices that are compatible but not connected to remote monitoring technology. The Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand believes up to 2,000 of these are patients have a ‘high clinical need’.

Remote monitoring can identify potential issues before they escalate and reduces the need for in-person doctor visits, which is particularly important as a result of the pandemic and advice to limit hospital visits.

Cardiologist and electrophysiologist Dr Bradley Wilsmore from John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle said having applications for remote monitoring rejected by insurers “was cause for considerable concern, particularly during the pandemic”.

Remote monitoring devices wirelessly share health data and alerts from the implant to a treating doctor.

Dr Wilsmore said the COVID-19 pandemic brought the need for wider access to this smart and affordable technology into sharp focus.

“These monitoring devices allow the implant to directly and securely transmit data to a cardiologist without having to visit the hospital or clinic,” he said.

“It enables us to detect significant events such as abnormal heart rhythm, monitor symptoms and the performance of the device such as battery life, without the patient having to leave their home."

Dr Wilsmore said access to remote monitoring was recognised as “best practice medicine” had the added benefit of delivering efficiencies for both patients and doctors.

Under the current regulation, private health insurers are only required to fund remote heart monitoring when it is provided as part of a hospital procedure.

Private Healthcare Australia has said insurers will consider funding the service on a case-by-case basis.

hearts4heart CEO Tanya Hall said her patient advocacy and support group has received appeals from doctors and patients who have had their requests for access to remote heart monitoring rejected.

“For months we have been in talks the Department of Health and Private Healthcare Australia, and some funds such as HBF, Australian Unity, GHMBA, DVA, Teachers Health and WestFund are issuing approvals."

Ms Hall said other insurers are rejecting applications. She said access to heart health technology should not be granted or rejected in such a way.

“We are calling on the Federal Government to make legislative change so that no matter when or where a pacemaker or defibrillator is inserted, no matter which health fund you are with, there is uniform access.”

“At a minimum, cardiac patients deserve that certainty,” added Ms Hall.