For eligible people, accessing your GP or mental health service could be just a video or phone call away.
This follows the Australian Government’s temporary addition of telehealth items to the Medicare Benefits Schedule 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, provided the services are bulk-billed. This reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the community.
With these safer options, people can access essential health services in their homes. This is particularly valuable when people are physically (or social) distancing, are in self-isolation or quarantine. Those who are eligible include people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 50-plus, parents with new babies, people who are pregnant, and those who have chronic conditions or are immune compromised. Full details are available here.
At the same time, the Australian Government is enabling vulnerable GPs and health professionals to use video and phone for all patient consultations, provided they also meet certain requirements. This means health workers can continue their vital work of supporting their community through remote means.
The Government has foreshadowed further expansion of video and phone consultations later this week.
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.
Dr May said her 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 is advised to call ahead before attending.
“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,” Dr May said.
“I’m pleased these (MBS) items are available now as they assist the practice to create a safe zone for the practice patients and staff.”