Telehealth assists infection control

Friday, 13 March, 2020

Telehealth assists infection control

Temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Department of Veterans’ Affairs items announced by the Australian Government are allowing doctors, nurses and mental health professionals to deliver services via telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis. The six-month measure is part of the government’s plan to address the pandemic, allowing eligible Australians to access essential health services from their home while in quarantine or self-isolation. It is hoped that the strategy will reduce the risk of viral exposure to vulnerable members of the community.

Who is eligible for telehealth services?

People in isolation or quarantine for COVID-19 can see any eligible health provider through new telehealth items. Patients in vulnerable groups can additionally see a health provider via telehealth for a non-COVID-19 matter if they have seen that provider face to face at least once in the previous 12 months.

Australians eligible for the items include those who are isolating themselves at home and those who meet the national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection. People aged over 70 years; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over 50 years; those with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised; and parents with new babies and people who are pregnant are also eligible.

Through videoconferencing platforms, GPs can screen clients and avoid having them present to the clinic, thus reducing the risk of contamination.

Patient-engagement platform HotDoc has updated its app to enable practices to screen patients for symptoms and epidemiological criteria for COVID-19 at the time of making an online booking or when confirming a previously booked appointment.

“Now clinics can easily get patients to self-identify if they meet the criteria and make a telephone-based appointment, which can be fully bulk billed. This is a huge step forward for Australia’s public health and means those in self-isolation or who are unable to attend a GP can still obtain proper medical advice,” said Dr Ben Hurst, CEO of patient-engagement platform HotDoc.

“In reaction to the changing situation and risks faced by our frontline health staff in Australia, we have added screening to the HotDoc app for patients who could be contagious for COVID-19,” he said.

“These changes mean patients can still obtain care, and GPs and practice staff are not unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19, ensuring more of our frontline staff are available to everyday Australians as they go about their lives.”

HotDoc’s Clinical Director Magali De Castro said, “These changes to the HotDoc app mean a clinic is in a much better position to educate patients, redirect them to a testing site or decide to manage them locally either in person by putting some additional infection control measures in place or via telephone or telehealth.

“We’ve made these changes to our app very adaptable so we can react to the changing situation and for example start giving patients the option to call the government COVID-19 hotline instead of the clinic if clinics start getting overwhelmed and we will be able to facilitate telehealth appointments for the rebate item.

“The updated app also adds screening steps to our in-clinic check-in kiosks for existing appointments, and an educational message to appointment reminders telling patients to get in touch via telehealth if they have symptoms rather than leaving the house.”

Additional infection control measures

Urging the shutdown of all Australian schools, universities, businesses and public places for four weeks, head of GP service providers 13 CURE and Dr Mohsin said telehealth is critical to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We urgently need to get people working from home, learning from home, and watching sport and other events from home,” he said.

“This is the only way we can avoid a complete and utter epidemic in Australia. Otherwise, the virus will spread and it will devastate our country and our economy. We must do it before winter arrives. This is absolutely critical.

“GP health services can be provided online. You can already see a doctor through the internet. In addition to, there are also others. Online health services must be eligible for Medicare so people can use them without cost and be completely bulk billed.”

Image credit: © Studio

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