By the Primary Health Care Improvement Team at North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.
Telehealth is the use of information and communication technologies to deliver health care services. This can be done by telephone consultation, email or videoconferencing.
Telehealth is becoming increasingly popular as a way to deliver primary health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought with it new MBS item numbers and added convenience for patients.
Most practices have taken up telehealth during the pandemic. If you are still considering your options here are some things to consider:
- The clinical need
- The financial costs
- The model of telehealth that will best suit your practice and patients
- Your goals and objectives
- How telehealth will integrate with face-to-face consults
- What equipment is required
- How to continue to provide face-to-face options
Deciding which telehealth platform to use
There are several key points to consider when deciding which telehealth platform to implement in your practice. The platform needs to be:
- Robust, private and secure
- Easy for your patients and staff to use
- Integrate with other systems such as your practice’s website
For these reasons, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network recommends healthdirect Video Call as the best option for general practice. We are providing all practices in our region with free access to healthdirect Video Call until June 2021. More information is available in the application form and at the bottom of this article.
Get your whole practice team involved
Staff engagement with telehealth services will assist you to successfully implement and integrate this service into your practice.
You might like to consider initially training one or two of your practice’s more enthusiastic GPs in how to provide telehealth videoconferencing. As staff interest grows, other clinicians can be trained by their more experienced colleagues.
When to use telehealth
Decisions on which appointments are clinically appropriate to be conducted by telephone or video consultation should involve the entire clinical team. Telephone and video consultations can generally be used for:
- Vulnerable populations who will be at high risk if they contract COVID-19
- Providing medical certificates or issuing repeat prescriptions
- Mental health consultations including counselling
- Routine chronic disease check-ups
- COVID-19-related conditions
Preparing for your consultation
Block out time for remote consults in your schedule. Consider doing this in the morning, so that face-to-face consults can be arranged later in the day if needed. Ensure that your telehealth consultation space:
- Is quiet and fit for purpose
- Has plain decor that will not distract from visual images on the screen
- Has good lighting, free from high-intensity light behind the subject (such as from a nearby window)
- Has easy access to equipment and paperwork that may be required during the video consultation
For more information refer to this handy checklist published by South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network.
After the consult – prescriptions
- Create a digital copy of the signed prescription (take a photo or scan) and send it by email, text, or fax to the patient and/or pharmacy. If the patient prefers to receive the legal paper prescription you will need to mail it to them.
- GPs are required to retain the paper prescription for a period of two years for audit and compliance purposes.
- Patients with existing paper prescriptions or repeat prescriptions who are confined to their homes can create a digital copy and send it to their chosen pharmacy.
- Patients should also contact their chosen pharmacy directly to discuss delivery of their prescribed medicines.
After the consult – pathology and radiology requests
Discuss with the patient who their preferred provider is and send them the request. Also send a copy to the patient. The consulting GP or administration team may need to contact providers to source their fax numbers or email addresses (if acceptable to the provider) as they are not normally listed.
- healthvitalIT: Using telehealth for remote consultations
- Victorian Department of Health and Human Services: How to establish a successful telehealth service
- RACGP Telehealth video consultations guide
- RACGP Guide to providing telephone and video consultations in general practice
- Interim arrangements for prescriptions for supply of medicines: Supporting telehealth patients and healthcare professionals
Things to consider
From 13 March 2020 to 30 September 2020 (inclusive), new temporary MBS telehealth items have been made available to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for patients and health care providers.
GP services using the MBS telehealth items must be bulk billed for Commonwealth concession card holders, children under 16 years of age, and patients who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Patients may be seen more than once on the same day, by the same practitioner, provided the subsequent visit is not a continuation of the earlier visit. If the visit is a continuation, the visit is regarded as being part of a single visit.
Providers do not need to be in their regular practice to provide telehealth services. Providers should use their provider number for their primary location and must provide safe services in accordance with normal professional standards.
If your practice has decided to implement telehealth services and is currently claiming the Practice Incentives Program Quality Improvement (PIP QI) incentive, you will need to continue to provide face-to-face consultations.
PIP QI has also been temporarily doubled for two quarters. Participating practices will now receive $10 per SWPE (increased from $5 per SWPE), and the quarterly payment cap has been raised from $12,500 per quarter to $25,000 per quarter.
Practices must continue to offer face-to-face consultations as an eligibility requirement for the increased payments, which will be monitored through MBS claims data. Practices must remain open for face-to-face consultations for at least four hours per business day.
Healthdirect Video Call
Healthdirect Video Call is an easy-to-use telehealth platform has been funded by the Commonwealth Government. Due to the increased need for telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, Video Call is now available free of charge for all general practices in our catchment until June 2021.
Healthdirect Video Call allows health care services using telehealth to provide a single, consistent entry point on their website. Patients simply click a link to enter an online waiting room for their appointment. Patients do not need an account, special software or dial-in details, which reduces the need for extra resources or systems to support video consulting.
Visit the Healthdirect website to watch an informative video about how Video Call works.
For more information about healthdirect Video Call contact:
Program Support Officer, Workforce Development
North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network
Phone: 03 9347 1188