Telehealth – a brave new world

April 1, 2020 by Lisa Bywaters0

telehealth.jpg

This blog was updated 15 April 2020.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. Welcome to our brave new world”.

OK, so I’ve mixed my classic Hollywood movie and a classic Huxley novel, but we really are in unchartered waters!

Just this week the Federal Government announced that telehealth will now be available for everyone. It’s one of the many measures the government is introducing, to enforce physical distancing and slow down the spread of the virus.

So what is telehealth and how is it even possible? 🤔

Simply put telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp).

Depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it, you might have a conversation over your phone with your doctor (like any other phone call), or you may interact face-to-face through a videoconferencing app.

Don’t worry though – if you’re only comfortable talking on your phone, that’s fine. You don’t have to download apps and learn how to use them. But if you’re interested, they’re easy to use. They just take a little practice.

Will I have to pay more for telehealth?

It depends. The Health Department has recently made some changes around telehealth.

From 6 April 2020 telehealth services must be bulk billed for “Commonwealth concession card holders, children under 16 years old and patients who are more vulnerable to COVID-19”.

The good news is that ‘vulnerable’ includes people being treated for a chronic condition and people who are immune-compromised. For all other patients, health professionals may set their own fees for the new temporary MBS telehealth items.

Confused? You’re not alone! Read this fact sheet (PDF) from the Department to find out more: COVID-19 Telehealth Services: Consumer Factsheet, Last updated: 25 May 2020

With any new system we need time to adjust

As many of us have discovered as we’ve started working, schooling and just trying to entertain ourselves at home, there may be some teething issues.

If you’re calling over the phone you’ll need to adjust to not seeing your doctor face to face; if you’re using an app you’ll need time to adjust to using new technology.

And if you’re using an app you may also experience slower internet speeds, which may affect your consultation. This is more likely to happen during busy times when everyone’s trying to get online (streaming their favourite shows, catching up with friends, watching cat videos).

As with any appointment, there can also be issues with time. Your health professional may be running late, they could be having tech issues, other patients needing more time, a medical emergency, or because they’re human and also need to adjust to working from home. You may be running late too. So it’s vital we all try to be patient, and give ourselves and others some leeway as we navigate this new ‘normal’.

But we can make it easier

We’ve identified these potential issues not to freak you out, but to prepare you. So here are our top tips to telehealth harmony.

Be patient – if your doctor is running late, if your internet is slow, if your appointment is rescheduled due to an emergency, be patient. This can be really hard to do when you’re unwell or in pain. You can feel vulnerable and worried, and being stuck at home can be frustrating. But becoming impatient won’t change the situation and will only make you feel worse – both physically and emotionally. Make a cuppa, read a book, do a crossword, talk with your partner/cat/dog/kids – distract yourself while you wait.

However if you have chest pain or difficult breathing, or have a medical emergency, call 000 immediately.

Don’t wait for your telehealth appointment.

Be prepared – before your appointment, make a list of the things you want to discuss with your doctor. Put them in order from the most important to the least. That way you won’t finish your consultation and then kick yourself for not asking X. Also – be aware that your appointment may end earlier than you anticipate if there’s a tech issue or an emergency. So lead with your most pressing questions or concerns, and if you have time, follow with the ones that are less important.

Be kind – our health professionals are doing the very best they can, often under very stressful, trying circumstances. They’re our frontline during this crisis, so please be kind to them. And be kind to yourself. You’re learning new technology or new ways to do things and just trying to stay sane during an insane time – recognise that you’re also doing the best you can. So hang in there.

Talk with someone who cares

Call the National MSK Help Line – our nurses are available weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 1800 263 265 or you can email helpline@msk.org.au. They can help you with info and support about musculoskeletal conditions, managing pain, treatments, accessing services, COVID-19 and much more.

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline – if you want information on coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 020 080.

More to explore

Expert advice matters
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
This new website from the RACGP provides information on the importance of continuing to see your GP – especially if you live with a chronic condition or you develop new symptoms or illnesses. It also provides lots of useful info about telehealth.

What is telehealth and is it right for you? 
NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability, March 2020
This guide explains the basics of telehealth and describes how to find telehealth services. 

Attending a video consultation 
NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability, March 2020
This guide explains how you should prepare so you can get the best out of your video consultation.

What can you use a telehealth consult for and when should you physically visit your GP?
The Conversation, 1 April 2020
Some info to help you work out when you should or shouldn’t use telehealth, with a handy infographic to clarify it even further.



Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

Useful Links


Key Conditions

Copyright by Musculoskeletal Australia 2018. All rights reserved

ABN: 26 811 336 442ACN: 607 996 921