Lessons from billed telepsychiatry in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic: rapid adaptation to increase specialist psychiatric care

Jeffrey Cl Looi, Tarun Bastiampillai, William Pring, Rebecca E. Reay, Stephen R. Kisely, Stephen Allison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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OBJECTIVE: To summarise and comment upon research regarding the service delivery impact of the introduction of COVID-19 pandemic Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) psychiatrist telehealth services in Australia in 2020-2021. Type of program or service: Privately-billed, MBS-reimbursed, face-to-face and telehealth consultations with a specialist psychiatrist during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: This paper draws on analyses of previously published papers. MBS-item-consultation data were extracted for video, telephone and face-to-face consultations with a psychiatrist for April-September 2020 in Victoria, and compared to face-to-face consultations in the same period of 2019 and for all of Australia. We also extracted MBS-item-consultation data for all of Australia from April 2020-April 2021, and compared this to face-to-face consultations for April 2018-April 2019. RESULTS: Although face-to-face consultations with psychiatrists waned following nationwide lockdowns, the introduction of MBS billing items for video and telephone telehealth meant that overall consultations were 13% higher in April 2020-April 2021, compared to the pre-pandemic year prior. A lockdown restricted to Victoria was associated with a 19% increase in consultations from April-September 2020, compared to the corresponding period in 2019. LESSONS LEARNT: Telehealth has been an integral component of Australia's relatively successful mental health response to COVID-19. The public availability of MBS data makes it possible to accurately assess change in psychiatric practice. The Australian Federal Government subsidises MBS telepsychiatry care by a patient rebate per consultation, illustrating that government-subsidised services can rapidly provide additional care. Rapid and substantial provision of telepsychiatry in Australia indicates that it may be a useful substitute or adjunct to face-to-face care during future pandemics and natural disasters.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3242238
Number of pages4
JournalPublic health research & practice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2022


  • telepsychiatry
  • service delivery
  • Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS)
  • Telehealth
  • COVID-19


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