During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth and phone consultations have used more than previously, rather than face-to-face consultations with patients.
The Australian Government emphasises the importance of using telehealth item numbers responsibly, appropriately and for the right reasons during this pandemic. A service may only be provided by telehealth where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so.
Telehealth (video-call) and phone consultation items are available to all Medicare-eligible Australians for a wide range of consultations. The new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) temporary bulk billed telehealth item numbers for COVID-19 are general in nature and have no relation to diagnosing, treating or suspecting COVID-19.
The item numbers must be bulk billed. Providers do not need to be in their regular practice to provide telehealth services. Providers should use their provider number for their primary location and must provide safe services in accordance with normal professional standards.
Factsheets are available for allied health providers, consumers, GPs and Other Medical Practitioners (OMPs), mental health practitioners, nurse practitioners, obstetric attendances, participating midwives and specialists. More information and factsheets are available at .
Platforms for telehealth/video calls
Videoconferencing is the preferred approach for MBS telehealth services for substituting a face-to-face consultation. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providers can also offer audio-only services via telephone if video is not available. There are separate items available for the audio-only services.
No specific equipment is required to provide Medicare-compliant telehealth services. Services can be provided through widely available video calling apps and software such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Duo, GoToMeeting and others.
Free versions of these applications (that is, non-commercial versions) may not meet applicable laws for security and privacy. Practitioners must ensure that their chosen telecommunications solution meets their clinical requirements and satisfies privacy laws.
Providing diagnosis and medical advice
The COVID-19 Home Medicines Service is a program that aims to support and protect the most vulnerable members of our community from potential exposure to COVID-19 by providing a fee-per-delivery payable to Australian pharmacies for the home delivery of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) medications. This means a patient is not required to visit the pharmacy in person.
Vulnerable people, and those in home isolation can order their PBS and RPBS prescriptions remotely and have these items delivered to their homes to reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19. Further advice can be found at .
Privacy and security should be taken into account when providing telehealth consultations:
Sometimes carers and family members will need to communicate virtually with a healthcare worker about a person they care for. This can be challenging when conversations are about difficult news or decisions and speaking face-to-face isn’t possible:
Reviewed 01 November 2021