Objective: Private practice psychiatry in Australia was largely office-based until the Commonwealth Government introduced new psychiatrist Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) telehealth items in response to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigate the uptake of (1) video and telephone telehealth consultations in April–May 2020, and (2) the overall changing rates of consultation, i.e. total telehealth and in-person consultations across the larger states of Australia. Method: MBS item service data were extracted for COVID-19 psychiatrist video- and telephone-telehealth item numbers and compared with a baseline of the 2018−2019-financial-year monthly average of in-person consultations for New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia. Results: Total psychiatry consultations (telehealth and in-person) rose during the first wave of the pandemic by 10%−20% compared to the previous year. The majority of private practice was conducted by telehealth in April but was lower in May as new COVID-19 case rates fell. Most telehealth provision was by telephone for short consultations of ⩽15−30 min. Video consultations increased from April into May. Conclusions: For large states, there has been a rapid adoption of the MBS telehealth psychiatrist items, followed by a trend back to face-to-face as COVID-19 new case rates reduced. There was an overall increased consultation rate (in-person plus telehealth) for April−May 2020.
- private practice