The quick response from the health IT sector in Australia and New Zealand to the coronavirus pandemic has been pretty impressive, with software vendors rolling out COVID-19-specific applications at a rate of knots if our technology resources page page is anything to go by.
Vendors are either tailoring new functionality to help with the crisis or in some cases waiving fees to ensure the technology is used when it's needed. An example is online appointment booking service Healthsite, which has very quickly managed to roll out a complete telehealth solution, in association with Tasmanian telehealth provider GP2U, that is integrated with Healthsite's booking system. HealthEngine also provides a similar service and both allow practices to offer private billing as well as bulk billed consultations.
Despite the release last Friday by Australia's Department of Health of new item numbers for telehealth, lobbying continued this week by a number of doctors' groups as well as the Consumers Health Forum to allow any patient consultation to be handled by telehealth if clinically appropriate.
There was a slight relaxation of the rules this week to remove the term “usual GP” from the requirements, allowing a doctor from the same practice to see a patient remotely if their usual doctor isn't available. Midwives and obstetricians have also been given item numbers to use telehealth to monitor women remotely, but there is still a great deal of confusion out there.
As the Australian government ups the national response to the coronavirus outbreak by banning non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, the federal Department of Health on Friday released a package of welcome measures to try to help manage the coronavirus outbreak and the massive pressure it is destined to place on our healthcare system.
The department has made available 30-odd new MBS items that will allow GPs, specialists, nurse practitioners, psychologists and occupational therapists to treat patients remotely, either by video or telephone. The items cover not just those diagnosed with COVID-19 or requested to quarantine themselves, but vulnerable groups like the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.