The expansion of telehealth services was a deliberate strategy to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission between practitioners and patients, so is it working?
According to our analysis, the answer is that telehealth is indeed reducing the risk. Since March 2020, more than 7 million MBS-funded telehealth consultations have been reported, with the vast majority (91%) being done by telephone.
Before then, only Australians living outside major cities were eligible for Medicare-funded telehealth consultations, via video only. This was limited largely to medical specialist services and a very small number of GP and allied health services.
In response to COVID-19, the federal government increased Medicare-funded telehealth services, including making telephone consultations available for the first time. They removed geographical constraints and increased the range of telehealth services available.
At first these expanded services were only open to vulnerable patients, such as older Australians and those with a chronic illness. But by early April, these restrictions were lifted, meaning all Australians could access Medicare-funded telehealth.