News Latest News Briefing note for viral hepatitis community and sector workforce: Telehealth for hepatitis C and hepatitis B Briefing note for viral hepatitis community and sector workforce: Telehealth for hepatitis C and hepatitis B Wednesday 14 December 2021 The purpose of this brief is to provide the viral hepatitis community and sector workforce with an update on telehealth for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. What is telehealth? Telehealth is the provision of health care services, such as doctors’ appointments, over phone or video call. While telehealth has been around for a long time for use in rural and remote settings, it has become much more available and widely used recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government established and funded new MBS telehealth item numbers, so that people outside rural and remote settings could use Medicare to cover the costs of telehealth consultations. How is telehealth used for hepatitis B and hepatitis C? Telehealth can be used for consultations for people living with or affected by hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Most patients require an existing relationship with the clinician to access telehealth, however for people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, the Australian Government has exempted some patient cohorts from requiring a pre-existing relationship with a doctor and to have seen them in the last 12 months. This means that patients with viral hepatitis can access treatment via telehealth without needing to have previously or recently seen that clinician. A recent study funded by the Australian Government Department of Health on telehealth for hepatitis C treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic found that ‘changes to the MBS during the pandemic made telehealth available to many patients for the first time’.[i] Researchers from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University found that patients and healthcare practitioners perceived hepatitis C treatment as well suited to telehealth. Telehealth increased access to healthcare and provided flexible and convenient care for people with hepatitis C. Is anything changing? On 13 December, the Australian Government confirmed that telehealth would be a permanent feature of the primary care system, and that the current MBS item numbers for telehealth would remain in place next year. They have also confirmed that this includes the MBS item for telehealth consults relating to blood-borne viruses and sexual and reproductive health, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C. This means patients seeking these services will continue to be exempt from needing to have attended the clinic providing the consult within the last 12 months. What should you do? Practitioners, healthcare workers and community workers should continue to provide and/or promote the use of telehealth for hepatitis B and hepatitis C, especially during the Summer period when the need for flexible healthcare is important. Clinicians can continue to use the current MBS item numbers for telehealth consults, which will remain in place in 2022. This includes the specific MBS item numbers for telehealth consults relating to blood-borne viruses and sexual and reproductive health, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C, which exempt patients seeking these services from needing to have attended the clinic providing the consult within the last 12 months. Download pdf [i] Shaw, F., Fomiatti, R., Fraser, S. & Whalley, A. (2021). Understanding experiences of telehealth care delivery for hepatitis C treatment in Australia: Findings and recommendations from a national qualitative study. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University. This briefing note was developed in partnership with ASHM ands ARCSHS, La Trobe University.