Telehealth Challenges and Successes in 2021

The rise of telehealth consultations in Australian practices has been a huge success since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The ability to treat patients remotely to reduce clinical risk has a range of benefits, and plenty of eHealth initiatives (such as electronic prescriptions) were fast-tracked to enable healthcare providers to continue to provide outstanding patient care in this new, uncharted territory.

Innovation often has the potential to cause some confusion, particularly when legislation hasn’t quite caught up with changes. One area that some of our practices may find confusing is the requirement to bulk bill telehealth consultations. While the Department of Health has relaxed the rules surrounding COVID-19 telehealth items, there are several considerations which Bp Premier users should understand when it comes to bulk billing telehealth consults.

Assignment of Benefits for Telehealth Item Numbers

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced new, temporary MBS telehealth and phone consult item numbers in March 2020. These item numbers must be bulk billed and have a similar requirement to the standard face-to-face items on which they’re based.

In July 2021, however, the Department of Health (DoH) warned GPs that it is still a legal requirement for patients to provide their explicit consent to ‘assign their benefit’ to their GP if they’re being bulk billed for a telehealth consult. While many consider this as a legal technicality, the DoH officials posted a memo on MBS Online enforcing this rule, and noting that it extends to telehealth consultations as well.

While the general sentiment is that Medicare need to review these rules, officials have decided that for the remainder of 2021, patients can give verbal consent during their consultation to assign their benefits to their GP. The easiest way for doctors to record this is in their consultation notes. Patients can also assign their benefit to an eligible provider via email, or a responsible third party – such as the patient’s carer or relative.

In summary, to ensure your practice is complying with legislation, a patient’s consent for the assignment of benefits can be provided in writing, by email, or verbally through the technology by which the consultation takes place. This agreement can be provided by the patient or another responsible third party, and the GP must record their patient’s assignment of benefits if they wish to claim benefits online without a patient’s signature.

What Other Telehealth Challenges Have Arisen?

One of the obvious downsides of telehealth consultations is the inability to give patients referrals, prescriptions, and other critical healthcare information which can be actioned immediately. Luckily, many eHealth initiatives have come to fruition since the COVID-19 outbreak which partly solve the challenges created by telehealth consultations.

Electronic prescriptions allow GPs to send patients their prescriptions via an electronic token regardless of their location, although emailing and faxing paper prescriptions to pharmacies is still commonplace. eOrdering for both pathology and radiology is also steadily increasing in popularity amongst labs around Australia. Participating laboratories allows GPs to send investigation requests to their labs electronically, although again, emailing and faxing investigation requests is still customary for telehealth patients.

Fact Sheets in Bp Premier allows for education materials to be emailed directly to patients via Healthshare. This is an excellent resource for telehealth consultations as it’s a quick and easy way to share critical healthcare information electronically. In addition, many of our users are enjoying the benefits of improved Secure Messaging – which was implemented in the release of Bp Premier Saffron.

For more information about telehealth consults, or to schedule a customised training session to demonstrate how these features can work for your practice, please reach out to our training team here.

Authored by:

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Matthew Smith
Training and Deployment Specialist at Best Practice Software

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