New temporary items have been added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) in response to the spread of COVID-19.
General practitioners, nurse practitioners, mental health professionals, specialists, obstetricians and midwives can now deliver telehealth services via video and phone calls to eligible patients.
With these safer options, people can access essential health services in their homes, provided they meet certain criteria and the services are bulk-billed. This reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the community. It also means GPs who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 can continue working while in isolation.
Dr May Thu Zaw said her practice, Woolgoolga’s Woopi Medical Centre, has embraced the options. Telehealth is a way to protect her staff and vulnerable patients from possible exposure to COVID-19.
The practice’s reception staff are screening callers to determine whether they have travelled overseas or have respiratory symptoms. Where appropriate, they then organise a phone consultation with their usual GP.
When testing is required for suspected cases, pathology requests are sent to the testing centre and the patient advised to call ahead before attending.
Dr May said the practice was supporting reception staff with the new process to minimise any confusion or stress to patients.
“I’m feeling positive about the new approach, which we’ll use for the next couple of weeks, though things may change again as the outbreak widens,” she said.
“I’m pleased these (MBS) item numbers are available now as they assist the practice to create a safe zone for the practice patients and staff.”