The Government is now operating in accordance with the Caretaker Conventions pending the outcome of the 2022 federal election.

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 Omicron case numbers grow, we to have responded and adapted, including in relation to expert stakeholder feedback.

On 16 January 2022 we announced temporary changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule. These changes are aimed at supporting the community and the health system through this evolving health emergency:

  • Longer GP telephone consultations (level C; longer than 20 minutes) are being reintroduced and are available nationally rather than targeted to Commonwealth-declared hotspots. Normal telehealth eligibility requirements and exemptions apply. Patients in quarantine or isolation due to Public Health Orders can still access telehealth from any GP.
  • Non-GP specialist telehealth MBS items (video and phone) are available for patients privately admitted to hospital to continue their care, for example if their physician is furloughed.
  • Phone services for initial and complex subsequent specialist and consultant physician consultations will assist patients to commence and continue private specialist care.

These changes to the MBS apply from 1 January 2022 and will be available until 30 June 2022.

See MBS Online for further details of the changes to ongoing Medicare telehealth services from 1 January 2022.

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 Home Medicines Service is a temporary program paying a fee per delivery to Australian pharmacies for home delivery of a person’s:

  • Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines, or
  • Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines.

This measure has been extended to 30 June 2022, with re-set eligibility from 1 February 2022 to those in home isolation due to COVID-19 and immunocompromised individuals.

Pharmacists can find out more about patient eligibility criteria and how to take part at the Pharmacy Programs Administrator site.

Last updated: 
13 April 2022

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