Briefing note for viral hepatitis community and sector workforce:
Telehealth for hepatitis C and hepatitis B

Friday 19 November 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?

The MBS Telehealth item numbers were originally established and funded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MBS Telehealth numbers in their current form are due to expire on 31st December 2021. 

The sector is awaiting an announcement about the extension of the telehealth MBS item numbers beyond 31st December 2021.

It is anticipated that telehealth will continue on in some form, as the Primary Health Care 10-year Plan focuses strongly on it and there has been ongoing significant advocacy from multiple health sectors. However, it is not yet known whether the MBS telehealth item numbers will be extended or if some changes will occur. 

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.

Hepatitis Australia will provide a further briefing note once more information is known about the MBS telehealth item numbers post December 2021.

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[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.