Providing health care remotely during COVID-19

From 13 March to 30 September 2020, new temporary MBS telehealth items have been made available to help reduce the risk of community transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and provide protection for patients and health care providers.

Telehealth services

The Australian Government has added a number of temporary Medicare items to help health care practitioners deliver telehealth services via phone or video conferencing.

Telehealth services will help protect health care professionals, their staff and patients from unnecessary risk of infection.

These measures will be in place until 30 September 2020. The Government will consider extending beyond 30 September 2020 if the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommends it.

Who can provide telehealth services

A range of health care providers can now provide telehealth services to patients. These include:

  • general practitioners (GPs)
  • specialists
  • allied health providers
  • mental health professionals
  • nurse practitioners

MBS Online has a series of COVID-19 Temporary MBS Telehealth Services fact sheets. This includes lists of the types of health care professionals who can provide telehealth services and the relevant MBS item numbers.

Telehealth bulk billing for GPs

From 6 April 2020, it is a legislative requirement that the new telehealth service must be bulk billed by GPs and other medical practitioners (OMP – practitioners not vocationally recognised as GPs, providing non-referred services). This is only for:

  • Commonwealth concession card holders
  • children under 16 years old
  • people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19

A person who is more vulnerable to COVID-19 is someone who:

  • is required to isolate or quarantine according to Australian Health Protection Principal Committee guidance
  • is at least 70 years old
  • identifies as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and is at least 50 years old
  • is pregnant
  • is the parent of a child aged under 12 months
  • is being treated for a chronic health condition
  • is of any age and has suppressed immunity
  • meets the national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection

Health care providers may apply their usual billing practices to the telehealth items for patients who do not fit the above criteria.

How to provide health services remotely

Videoconferencing is the preferred way to do a telehealth consultation. However, you can offer telephone services if video is not available.

You do not need specific equipment to provide Medicare-compliant telehealth services. Make sure your chosen telecommunications solution meets your clinical requirements and satisfies privacy laws. See the Australian Cyber Security Centre for advice on how to select a web conferencing solution.

For guidance on how to run a telehealth consultation about COVID-19, see our flow chart on telehealth and consultations in GP respiratory clinics.

How to provide prescriptions and prescription medication via telehealth

We are working with clinical software providers to upgrade prescribing and dispensing software so it supports electronic prescribing. We expect this to be available from May 2020.

For now, at a telehealth consultation, a prescriber can prescribe medication by writing a paper prescription and providing it to the patient (for example, by post). If this is not practical, a prescriber can instead turn the prescription into an ‘image-based prescription’. This is a digital image of the paper prescription, which can then be sent by the prescriber to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.

The Commonwealth has changed legislation to temporarily allow prescribers to create a digital image of the patient’s prescription to support supply of their medicines. This interim arrangement supports telehealth before electronic prescribing becomes available.

See our guide on how to write a prescription for your patient during a telehealth consultation.

Pharmacists can dispense medications and make Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) claims from the digital image of the prescription sent through by the prescriber.

Under the temporary arrangement, patients do not need to sign to acknowledge receipt of supply if it is not practical for them to do so. The pharmacist may sign on behalf of the patient, unless it is not practical for them to do so.

If the prescriber has authorised repeats, the pharmacist may create a repeat authorisation and attach it to a print out of the digital image of the prescription. This must be held in the pharmacy for subsequent supply of the medication. 

See our guide for pharmacists on how to dispense an image-based prescription sent from a prescriber.

For image-based prescriptions, prescribers must keep the paper prescription for 2 years (for audit and compliance purposes). Pharmacists must keep the digital image of the prescription for 2 years.

Medicines in Schedule 8 and Schedule 4 Appendix D in the Poisons Standard are not part of this interim arrangement, unless specifically permitted by relevant state or territory rules. Supply these medicines according to your state and territory legislation.

While the vast majority of health care providers do the right thing, please report any fraudulent and inappropriate practice against Medicare and the PBS.

Home delivery for medicines

The Home Medicines Service is a temporary program paying a fee per delivery to Australian pharmacies for home delivery to vulnerable people of:

  • Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medications
  • Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines

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

For patients who do not meet the program’s criteria for a vulnerable person, pharmacies may charge a home delivery fee.

Pharmacies should advise patients at the time of receipt of the prescription from the dispenser or the patient if they are not able to provide a home delivery service.

Information for patients

If patients are seeking further information on how to access telehealth and prescriptions from home, please see the following guides:

More resources for the general public are available at our coronavirus (COVID-19) resources collection.

Staying informed

To stay up to date on COVID-19:

You can also join our WhatsApp channel or use our Coronavirus Australia app.

Australian Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19

Join our COVID-19 WhatsApp channel to learn the latest on Australia's response to coronavirus (COVID-19). If you're already a WhatsApp user you can send a message to the channel to connect. If you don't have WhatsApp, download the app to join the channel.

Coronavirus Australia app

Stay up to date with official information and advice about the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. You can check your symptoms and get notified when urgent information and updates are published.

Resources

Online training

A 30-minute online module — COVID-19 infection control training — is available for care workers across all health care settings.

This training is hosted on an external site, provided by our COVID-19 training partner Aspen Medical.

Register now

Publications and fact sheets

See our resources for health professionals on providing health care during COVID-19.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources for health professionals, including aged care providers, pathology providers and health care managers

A collection of resources for health professionals, including aged care providers, pathology providers and health care managers, about coronavirus (COVID-19).

Webinars

Stay up to date with our webinars on the coronavirus (COVID-19) response for the health and aged care sector.

Last updated: 
22 May 2020

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