With the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in NSW, it is worth remembering that the Federal and State Governments have introduced several regulatory changes, to put in place a range of supports which ensure your continued access to health services.
Under the current stay-at-home orders, accessing healthcare is one of the exemptions for leaving home, either for yourself or someone in your care. This means you can visit your local or preferred pharmacy and attend medical appointments if they continue to offer face-to-face services.
The following options are available if you are isolating or don’t feel comfortable leaving home:
Telehealth consults are subsidised through Medicare to minimise the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 to both clients and health care providers.
You’ll need to have an established clinical relationship with a General Practitioner or the medical practice such as a face-to-face appointment in the last 12 months. There are some exceptions, including for people living with HIV. This service covers General Practitioners, specialists, psychologists, dieticians, diabetes educators, mental health workers and many other health professionals.
When making an appointment, the medical practice will confirm your eligibility for a telehealth consultation. While providers are encouraged to bulk-bill these appointments, they are also allowed to charge for the service, as long as informed financial consent is obtained before the appointment.
This process is in place until 31 December 2021.
Under the NSW ‘digital prescriptions’ legislation, prescribers are able to provide your preferred pharmacy with a digital image of your prescription, via fax or email. For most medications, doctors are not required to post the physical paper copy of the prescription to the pharmacy, after they have faxed or emailed it to the pharmacy, i.e. the pharmacy can dispense from a fax or emailed copy of the prescription.
However, there are certain restrictions depending on the type of medication that can be dispensed under these special arrangements. For drugs listed as exceptions, the doctor must also post the original physical paper copy of the prescription to the pharmacy. These include anabolic steroids, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, growth hormones, quetiapine, pregabalin, tramadol, zolpidem, zopiclone, opioids and dexamphetamine.
If you would like to use this process, please check with your prescriber and advise them of your preferred pharmacy details. This provision is due to end 30 September 2021, but hopefully will be extended.
Delivery of medication
Many community pharmacies offer a home delivery service to their clients, and some are even offering a postal service. To help facilitate this, the Federal Government introduced a scheme called Home Medicines Service to help cover the costs of delivering medication to clients who meet certain criteria (including those living with HIV).
This service is limited to one delivery per month, and must include a PBS-subsidised medication, although additional items may also be included.
To access this option, ask your preferred pharmacy if they are offering a general delivery or postal service or are participating in the Home Medicines Service.
Access to mental health services
The Federal Government has increased the number of Medicare-subsidised psychology therapy sessions available for people in each calendar year; previously, up to ten sessions were available. An additional ten sessions are now available for people experiencing mental health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. To access this option, talk with your GP or your mental health practitioner.
Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au) also has a range of resources including COVID-19 support, general information, and advice and links to free and low-cost phone and online mental health services from trusted Australian based providers.
Published in Talkabout #198 August 2021