Government adds more telehealth services as lockdowns continue across Australia

In the same week it decided to scrap the contentious 'robo-assessments' from the NDIS, the federal government has also expanded telehealth as Australians in Sydney and Melbourne continue lockdown life.

medical mask and hand disinfectant and woman with parcel

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The federal government has announced extending telehealth consultations for Australians in COVID-19 hotspots from Friday.

Two new Medicare telephone items will be available for GPs and other medical practitioner services for patients living in hotspots as declared by the chief medical officer. The new items will enable doctors to provide longer telephone consultations, lasting 20 minutes or more. 

"The move is in response to the current COVID-19 situation in NSW and the prospect of a prolonged hotspot declaration in Greater Sydney," a statement from Minister for Health Greg Hunt said.

"Telehealth has played an important role in supporting Australians through the pandemic and these new items mean Australians can continue to see their GP, renew scripts, and seek mental health support from the safety of their own home."

See also: Budget 2021: Digital mental health services to see AU$110m injection

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) this week also reminded those in lockdown they can ask their GP for an electronic prescription when getting prescription medicines.

"More than 12 million electronic prescriptions have already been issued, as healthcare providers and patients see the benefits of going digital," ADHA CEO Amanda Cattermole said.

"Electronic prescriptions are providing safer, faster and more efficient supply of prescriptions to Australians -- in person via their doctor or via a telehealth consultation -- sent straight to their mobile phone or by email."

Facing questioning over the country's bungled vaccine rollout, Hunt on Friday offered advice to those under 40 confused as to when they can get the jab.

"So the message for those people with vaccination is that when it opens for them and the advice that we have is September, October will be the period, then we'd encourage every Australian to come forward to be vaccinated," he said.

"So Moderna should arrive, the first million is due in September and then we'll have three million a month in October, November, December. That will be made available as, as well, and that's planned to be through a mixture of GP's and pharmacies around the country."

Hunt also said the government has brought forward "significant numbers of Pfizer".

"We've got over 53 million AstraZeneca; 51 million Novavax; we have 40 million Pfizer; 25 million of the international COVAX," he said.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) this week also reminded those in lockdown they can ask their GP for an electronic prescription when getting prescription medicines.

"More than 12 million electronic prescriptions have already been issued, as healthcare providers and patients see the benefits of going digital," ADHA CEO Amanda Cattermole said. 

"Electronic prescriptions are providing safer, faster and more efficient supply of prescriptions to Australians -- in person via their doctor or via a telehealth consultation -- sent straight to their mobile phone or by email."

According to the minister, over 9.6 million vaccinations had been conducted as of Thursday.

Elsewhere, the federal government was forced to bin its contentious robo-assessments that were expected to form part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The independent assessments for NDIS participants, according to the government, were designed to make sure access to the NDIS is "fair and equitable" for new and existing participants.

The federal opposition, as well as organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), had condemned the use of automation in determining an individual's eligibility for the NDIS.

"Our concerns about the use of AI in decision-making, especially in really important decision-making -- I'm very conscious that in the move towards the use of independent assessments in the NDIA that there is a risk that some of the mistakes that were made with regard to robo-debt could be made again in this context," AHRC commissioner Edward Santow said last month.

According to the federal opposition, independent assessments is another way of saying "robo-planning".

THIS WEEK FROM CANBERRA