The Use of Telehealth in Australia During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic for Medical Practitioners: A retrospective epidemiological analysis Telehealth usage during COVID-19
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Introduction: New Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) telehealth item codes were added in 2020 to allow Australians to gain access to medical services during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Previous studies have been conducted on the utilisation of specific MBS item codes however none have been conducted on all medical practitioner telehealth item codes.
Objective: This retrospective epidemiological analysis aims to determine the utilisation rate of newly introduced medical practitioner telehealth MBS item codes and compare them with the usage of existing in-person item codes
Methods: The utilisation of 319 MBS item codes were extracted from the Medicare Statistics Database between March 2020 to March 2021. Using count and population statistics a population adjusted rate was generated and a linear regression analysis undertaken.
Results: A total of 199,059,309 in-person and telehealth services (Male, n=84,007,935; 42.2%, Female, n=115,051,374; 57.8%) were utilised during the study period. 147,697,104 were in-person compared to 51,191,898 telehealth services. In-person usage decreased by 27.5% while telehealth increased by 358.8%. In-person utilisation increased by 32.4% as the year continued while the telehealth utilisation decreased by 40.7%. There was a non-significant increase in total in-person item code utilisation (p=0.76) and a non-significant decrease (p=0.32) in the total telehealth item codes used
Conclusion: There was initially increased usage of telehealth especially during lockdown restrictions. However, when lockdowns eased, usage of telehealth decreased while in-person increased. Regardless, telehealth item codes continued to be used despite changes to eligibility criteria and lockdown restrictions easing. Hence, it appears that patients are accepting of telehealth as a healthcare delivery method.
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