Video call with a doctor

Over the last year, Telehealth has changed the way health care is delivered. You can now talk to your GP or other health professionals from the comfort of your own home, without spending hours in the waiting room.

What is it?

Telehealth means using telecommunication technology, including telephone and video calling, like Skype and FaceTime, to conduct medical consultations remotely, reducing the chance of spreading infection from sick patients to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to and subsequently to other patients. The Federal Government has extended the provision of telehealth services to 31 December 2021

How does it work?

Temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) item numbers have been rolled out allowing GPs and other health professionals to be more flexible with their delivery of services so patients who are at risk or unwell can stay safe. The new MBS items enable people to access essential health services in their home while they are in self-isolation or quarantine and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the community. These Medicare item numbers will be in place for six months initially, ending in September. Health Minister Greg Hunt said in July that

Telehealth has been enthusiastically accepted by doctors and patients alike. I hope and intend for telehealth to be a positive legacy of this crisis and am already engaged with the medical community in planning a long-term future for telehealth.

Who can access it?

People in isolation or quarantine for COVID-19 can see any eligible health provider with these new telehealth items. Patients who are at risk or in vulnerable groups can also see a health provider via telehealth for medical issues other than COVID-19 if they have seen that provider (or another provider within the same practice) at least once face-to-face in the last 12 months. Updates were made to ensure patients receive care from a GP or practice with whom they have an existing relationship. All Medicare-eligible Australians can now receive these services. GPs and OMPs working in general practice may only provide a telehealth service where they have an existing relationship with the patient.

Telehealth services are available to:

  • people isolating themselves at home on the advice of a medical practitioner or in accordance with home isolation guidance issued by the AHPPC
  • people who meet the testing guidelines for COVID-19
  • people over the age of 70
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50
  • people with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised
  • parents with new babies and people who are pregnant
  • a person who meets the current national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection.

How to use it

Contact your GP doctor, mental health practitioner or midwife by phone, especially if you have cold or flu symptoms and explain your situation. You must have an existing and continuous relationship with either the practitioner or the practice in question. That means you have to have seen that particular doctor, or a doctor from the same practice, (or other health professionals) for a face-to-face consult in the last 12 months

Is it here to stay? Maybe.

In November 2020, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he believes Telehealth will become a permanent part of the Medicare system, despite the Federal Government only committing to extend the provision of telehealth services only until the end of 2021, at this stage.

We have just passed 40 million telehealth consultations. They were introduced as a temporary item. But what we’re working on is ensuring that this is a permanent transformation in the Australian scheme.

There’s not been much good that’s come from COVID. One thing that has come from COVID is the fact that we have skipped a decade and jumped from 2020 to 2030 for the delivery of telehealth for all Australians. Universal, whole-of-population telehealth and it will now be permanent.

More information

For more information, you can read the fact sheets

Coronavirus Information Line 

Call the National coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine helpline if you are seeking information on coronavirus (COVID-9). The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Free call: 1800 020 080

Disability Information Helpline

The Disability Gateway provides information and referrals for people with disability who need help because of Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Free call: 1800 643 787

See all our COVID-19 resources here

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