Providing health care remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic

To protect patients and healthcare providers from COVID-19 transmission, we have expanded telehealth services, fast-tracked electronic prescribing, and supported home delivery of medicines to vulnerable people. This allows health professionals to provide care remotely.

Telehealth services

Telehealth has played a critical role in ensuring the continuity of care for hundreds of thousands of Australian patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has offered greater flexibility to health care, while supporting universal Medicare access.

As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we expanded Australians’ access to telehealth in March 2020 to reduce the risk of community transmission. We did this through temporary MBS telehealth items.

As of 1 January 2022, MBS Telehealth arrangements have become ongoing. The permanent arrangements will:

  • provide for a wide range of telephone and video services for general practitioners (GPs) and consultant physicians
  • support safe and equitable telehealth services which are informed by the MBS Review Taskforce Principles.

Building on the pandemic response, more than 200 telehealth services have been made permanently available. These changes mean MBS video and telephone services are available nationally from GPs, medical specialists, and other health professionals.

From 19 July 2022, new temporary telehealth items have been introduced that provide for longer phone consultations for patients who have received a positive COVID-19 test (RAT or PCR).  Medicare benefits will recognise when a longer medical assessment by phone is required to assess whether antivirals should be prescribed, equivalent to face-to-face and video services of the same duration.

Millions of Australians are now eligible to access antivirals on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), but they need to start taking the medication within five days of symptoms.

Following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis, eligible people can have a telephone or video consultation with a doctor to obtain a prescription for antivirals.

Patients who have a confirmed case of COVID-19 and are subject to self-isolation requirements can access telehealth from any GP, including for assessment of their suitability for oral antiviral medications.

The items will remain on the MBS until 31 December 2022.

For more information on new MBS items, see MBS Online.

Who can receive telehealth services

Telehealth services are available nationally.

To be eligible for GP telehealth services patients must have had a face-to-face consultation with their GP or another GP in the same practice, in the 12 months before the telehealth service. There are some limited exceptions, including patients who are subject to isolation or quarantine due to state or territory COVID-19 public health orders.

Who can provide telehealth services

A range of healthcare providers can deliver telehealth services to patients. These include:

  • general practitioners (GPs)
  • specialists and consultant physicians
  • allied health providers
  • mental health professionals
  • nurse practitioners.

MBS Online lists the types of health care professionals and services for which there are Medicare rebates.

Electronic prescribing

We fast-tracked electronic prescribing as part of our pandemic response. These systems are now in place in many practices and pharmacies across Australia.

See the Australian Digital Health Agency for information about electronic prescribing for healthcare providers.  

We introduced image-based prescribing at the start of the pandemic, while electronic prescribing systems were being developed. 

Image-based prescriptions (a photo of a paper prescription) will no longer be legal in community pharmacy settings after 31 March 2022. Prescriptions with repeats written before then will continue to be honoured until the prescription runs out or expires.

Limited image-based prescribing activities may continue for prescriptions written for hospital patients. A prescription written for a hospital patient can be lawfully dispensed by a hospital pharmacy. This arrangement for will only extend until 31 March 2023.

Home delivery for medicines

The COVID-19 Home Medicines Service ended on 30 June 2022. The temporary measure enabled eligible Australians to have their Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines home delivered.

For information, see the data for the COVID-19 Home Medicines Service.

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