In early March the Australian Government began progressively opening access under the Medicare Benefits Schedule to telehealth for many consultations between with patients and their general practitioners, mental health providers and medical specialists.

Optometry Australia’s advocacy

As of Monday 30 March 2020, it has been confirmed that the Australian Government is continuing to consult with key stakeholders, including Optometry Australia to co‑design a whole of population telehealth response to COVID-19.

The co-design will look to the best practise expansion of telehealth items for all patients, with or without COVID-19, to see any general practitioner, medical specialist, mental health or allied health professional during the COVID-19 health emergency.

Optometry Australia is advocating to the Commonwealth regarding the benefits to patient health of introducing an item to support patients to access optometry services via telehealth. We will keep you up to date on any developments on this issue.

Supporting members offering telehealth services

On Monday 30th March 2020, Optometry Australia shared further information and resources to support members offering telehealth services.

We believe tele-optometry is a key element in ensuring our community can access time-critical and urgent eye care during the COVID-19 pandemic. We strongly encourage practices to begin offering, or preparing to offer, telehealth services to their communities. We believe that, given a Medicare rebate is not currently available, it is appropriate to charge a reasonable private fee for this service.

Resources:

Q) What services should my practice offer during the pandemic?

It is important that we ensure people who require eye care are aware of what services your practice is prepared to provide – including whether these include telehealth and/or offering urgent or emergency face-to-face care.

On Friday 8 May 2020, we were advised that as pandemic restrictions ease in each jurisdiction, if appropriate infection control and risk mitigation approaches are used, optometrists can use their clinical judgement to determine what consultations can be conducted.

We interpret this to mean that, provided you are according with the relevant restrictions for the state and territory, and implementing stringent infection control, optometrists can begin providing the standard suite of optometric services. To support you in implementing this recommendation we have developed a Guide for triaging care in the COVID-19 environment. Visit our triaging urgent and critical care page for further information.

Q) How do I let my patients know I am offering telehealth services?

We are asking members to indicate  if they/their practice will be providing these services by updating their membership profile here. This is necessary for patients to find your practice contact details under the Find An Optometrist function. This information may also be shared with health services in your region.

Please flag if you/your practice is able to provide either:

  • tele-optometry (that is, services to a patient via telephone or video link up) and/or tele-ophthalmology (that is, supporting a patient to access care from their ophthalmologist), or
  • emergency care (that is, face-to-face care to those with urgent need, potentially including during further restrictions)

Please ensure that your phone details support your patients to access you if your practice is no longer open during regular business hours. For some practices, this may be as simple as forwarding your practice number to an alternative phone number. We have developed a range of social media tiles and practice posters to support you in communicating this to your patients – please let us know at policy@optometry.org.au if there is anything else we can do to assist.

Support for our members

We realise this is a difficult and uncertain time for all of us. Optometry Australia’s optometry advisor helpdesk offers our members dedicated experienced optometrists ready to provide confidential support.

Optometry Australia’s advisor helpdesk
Email: national@optometry.org.au
Phone: (03) 9668 8500
Operating hours: Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm AEST

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