Utilisation of COVID-19 related MBS telehealth items
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, from March 2020 the Australian Government introduced a range of temporary telehealth items in the MBS which allowed general practitioners (GPs), medical specialists, obstetrics and allied health professionals to also provide consultations either by telephone or videoconference. These changes were intended to reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for both patients and health care providers.
This section of the report only focuses on the MBS items in the COVID-19 Temporary MBS Telehealth Services. The temporary MBS telehealth services items in the circular are separated into three categories, face-to-face items, telehealth items via video-conference, and telephone items for when video-conferencing is not available. The face-to-face items are pre-existing items. The telephone items and video-conference items were introduced in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and these items are different from those pre-existing telehealth items in the MBS.
Compared here are those service types where temporary tele-items were added alongside existing items in the MBS. As such, the categories presented are not directly comparable with the BTOS category presented earlier in this web report.
Between March and August 2020, telephone consultations by all health professionals constituted over one quarter (26%) of all telehealth items introduced in response to COVID-19 as well as the face to face equivalent items. During the same period, less than three quarters (72%) of all services were delivered face-to-face, and 2 per cent were delivered via video-conference.
There was some variability across different health professional groups. Please see the percentage distribution between COVID-19 related items in the table below.
Table 1. Percentage of services, COVID-19 related MBS items, by mode of delivery, March to August 2020
|Other medical practitioner
The change in mode of delivery was most pronounced in April 2020. While the total number of consultations increased by 16% when compared to April 2019, face-to-face consultations decreased, dropping 24% when compared to April 2019. This decrease in face-to-face consultations was offset by a large volume of consultations delivered via telephone and video-conference.
Figure 1.10: Total MBS services and benefits paid for COVID-19 related items by mode of delivery, September 2018 to August 2020