Are all doctors offering telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic and do you have to use it?

From the ABC News. By political reporter Stephanie Dalzell. Updated 30 Mar 2020, 11:38am

From today, Australians will be able to access bulk-billed telehealth consultations with their doctors and many other health professionals — meaning they won’t have to pay any out-of-pocket costs.

It’s part of a $1.1 billion government funding boost designed to protect against the widespread impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and has been heralded as a “life-saving” measure by some.

But which specialists can offer the service, is it for free, and are you still allowed to see your doctor face-to-face?

What even is telehealth?

Telehealth or telemedicine consultations are virtual appointments conducted over the phone or video conferencing services like FaceTime, Zoom or WhatsApp.

They allow a patient to dial in and speak to their doctor through a simple audio link, or interact with them through a screen.
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Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the telehealth industry was steadily growing. Rural and regional Australians have been increasingly relying on the method to get much-needed care — with the benefits being accessibility (if you have the internet or a solid phone line), cost and the ability to wear pyjama pants during appointments.

What does this announcement mean for patients?

Firstly, they’ll be more protected, as they won’t have to sit in waiting rooms and expose themselves to a potential source of coronavirus.

Secondly, they’ll be able to see some health providers without any out-of-pocket costs (we’ll get to those specifics a bit later).

That’s because if the GPs and other eligible specialists wish to access the temporary Medicare item, they will be required to bulk-bill the service.

The patient will dial in to speak to their doctor, and if a script is required — it’ll be faxed, emailed or posted to them or their pharmacy.

What about for doctors?

Doctors will also be spared a great deal of risk — heralded as a win by all the major medical lobby groups.

Groups like the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners had been pushing for the change, saying it would limit the spread of the virus while keeping both health professionals and patients safe.

Critically, protective gear like masks, gloves and gowns will also be conserved, as they won’t have to wear it for the video consults.

It’s worth noting that doctors will be getting less money in their pockets from the telehealth consultations, as they’ll be forced to bulk-bill (meaning they won’t be able to charge any additional money). But they’ll get some incentives from the government to sweeten the deal slightly.