Acknowledging the risk doctors and healthcare workers are facing, the Australian government has expanded the nation's telehealth service to help cope with the coronavirus situation. Here's what you need to know about it.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced on March 23 that Australia's telehealth service would be expanded to allow vulnerable doctors to avoid patient contact by providing digital consultations. This could mean your appointments would now be undertaken over the phone or through an online video call.
The announcement would also see those telehealth services available until September 30 as well offered as bulk billed, per the Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) site.
- From 13 March 2020 to 30 September 2020 (inclusive), new MBS telehealth items are available for services to vulnerable people within the community or who are in isolation due to COVID-19, and service by providers who are in isolation due to COVID-19.
- The new items are available to GPs, medical practitioners, nurse practitioners, participating midwives and allied mental health providers.
- The new services must be bulk billed.
Australians wanting to test for coronavirus were already advised to call doctors and clinics ahead of presenting for examination so the telehealth service changes would allow those exhibiting coronavirus symptoms an easier method to get their consultation.
Still, it's likely to be a major departure for many of us used to going to clinic or hospital for any appointments. A study of 1,025 Australians aged over 18 released on Friday by communications agency, Red Havas, highlighted that 84 per cent of the respondents were not confident in using online health technology. Only eight per cent of them admitted to using virtual health care previously.
With that in mind, we took a look at what you'd need to do.
How to book a telehealth appointment
Right now, there's no central way of booking a telehealth appointment. You'll have to check in with your local healthcare clinic by giving them a call to see if they offer the service and if you're eligible. It'll likely be set up on an official health portal, like Queensland Health's or the AMS Connect app but it depends on what your clinic's preference.
It's also important to note that telehealth consultations are really a first step to see if a face-to-face appointment is required. This means you won't be able to get prescriptions or formal diagnoses but it will help medical professionals to triage your concerns.
Other than that, it's really a normal appointment. You'll discuss anything you let your doctor know about and depending on the doctor's expert opinion, you could be brought in for a physical examination at the clinic.
With the number of confirmed coronavirus infections steadily rising in the country's major cities, it's likely more and more Australians with suspected symptoms will head in to get tested. In order to better understand how the process works, we asked the Department of Health what happens when you're required to test.