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Increased Australian outpatient private practice psychiatric care during the COVID-19 pandemic: usage of new MBS-telehealth item and face-to-face psychiatrist office-based services in Quarter 3, 2020

  • Looi, Jeffrey CL1, 2
  • Allison, Stephen
  • Bastiampillai, Tarun3, 4
  • Pring, William5, 6, 7
  • Reay, Rebecca1, 8
  • Kisely, Stephen R9, 10
  • 1 Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Australian National University Medical School, Canberra Hospital, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  • 2 Private Psychiatry, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  • 3 College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia
  • 4 Department of Psychiatry, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia
  • 5 Monash University, VIC, Australia
  • 6 Centre for Mental Health Education and Research at Delmont Private Hospital, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  • 7 Private Psychiatry, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  • 8 Private Practice, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  • 9 School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  • 10 Departments of Psychiatry, Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Published Article
Australasian Psychiatry
SAGE Publications
Publication Date
Feb 24, 2021
DOI: 10.1177/1039856221992634
PMID: 33626304
PMCID: PMC7905334
PubMed Central
  • Covid-19


Objective: The Australian federal government introduced new COVID-19 psychiatrist Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) telehealth items to assist with providing private specialist care. We investigate private psychiatrists’ uptake of video and telephone telehealth, as well as total (telehealth and face-to-face) consultations for Quarter 3 (July–September), 2020. We compare these to the same quarter in 2019. Method: MBS-item service data were extracted for COVID-19-psychiatrist video and telephone telehealth item numbers and compared with Quarter 3 (July–September), 2019, of face-to-face consultations for the whole of Australia. Results: The number of psychiatry consultations (telehealth and face-to-face) rose during the first wave of the pandemic in Quarter 3, 2020, by 14% compared to Quarter 3, 2019, with telehealth 43% of this total. Face-to-face consultations in Quarter 3, 2020 were only 64% of the comparative number of Quarter 3, 2019 consultations. Most telehealth involved short telephone consultations of ⩽15–30 min. Video consultations comprised 42% of total telehealth provision: these were for new patient assessments and longer consultations. These figures represent increased face-to-face consultation compared to Quarter 2, 2020, with substantial maintenance of telehealth consultations. Conclusions: Private psychiatrists continued using the new COVID-19 MBS telehealth items for Quarter 3, 2020 to increase the number of patient care contacts in the context of decreased face-to-face consultations compared to 2019, but increased face-to-face consultations compared to Quarter 2, 2020.

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