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Understanding telehealth: what is it and how can it help you?

We answer some of the biggest questions about telehealth to help you feel more comfortable using telehealth services.

A sick young person using a laptop talk to doctor for a telehealth appointment from the living room in their home.
A sick young person using a laptop talk to doctor for a telehealth appointment from the living room in their home.

Telehealth changes the way we can access medical care, making it easier and more convenient to speak with a doctor or get a prescription without leaving ourhome. But, there are some common questions around telehealth. For example, is it suitable for every medical or healthcare need? And, does it cost more than a face-to-face consultation?

We’ve answered your top telehealth questions to help you feel more comfortable using telehealth and reaping the benefits.

What is telehealth?

Simply put, telehealth allows you to access healthcare virtually through phone or video call. Some common ways people use telehealth are: 

  • Consultations over the phone with your GP or psychologist 

  • Getting a referral from your GP emailed to you after an over-the-phone consultation 

  • Your doctor might ask you questions over the phone or use video to diagnose your symptoms 

  • Filling prescriptions online and getting them delivered to your door 

  • Using devices to monitor health concerns like heart rate or blood sugar levels while you’re at home. The information from these devices is sent to your healthcare professional 

  • Getting an online medical certificate 

  • Accessing preventative health management programs through phone or online consultations. 

Because telehealth happens virtually through digital channels, it makes it more convenient for you to access the health care you need without having to battle traffic, parking or putting on a pair of jeans.

Telehealth vs telemedicine

You may have heard the terms ‘telehealth’ or ‘telemedicine’ used interchangeably, so is there a difference? Telehealth is a broad term encompassing clinical consultations with a healthcare provider via phone or video calls, including all the examples we discussed above. Telemedicine, on the other hand, is a subset of telehealth and refers to the virtual sharing of patient information between health professionals for evaluation, diagnosis, treatment or education.

Benefits of telehealth

Telehealth technology has helped make health more accessible so you can avoid the struggles that often come with driving to a clinic, and simply enjoy the convenience of getting your health needs met while wearing your favourite trackie-dacks.  

It’s also increased access to health care for people who are immunocompromised or who live in remote areas. There’s now more choice when it comes to choosing our healthcare provider as we’re no longer constrained by location or distance.

Not having to leave the house just to get a medical certificate or pick up a prescription if you’re feeling unwell or are caring for sick kids at home is a major benefit for busy parents (well, busy anyone actually).

Above all though, telehealth means you can stay at home and isolate if you’re feeling unwell so you don’t risk infecting others (or getting sick) by sitting in a communal waiting room.  

How can I use telehealth? 

You can use nib’s find a provider tool to search for certain practitioners who offer telehealth. Alternatively, contact your doctor, specialist or allied health practitioner directly to ask whether they provide telehealth consultations; they’ll also be able to advise if your condition is appropriate for a telehealth consultation. The important thing to remember is that a telehealth consultation may not be recommended for everyone and sometimes it’s essential you go into a medical clinic to see your healthcare professional for a face-to-face consultation. 

Related: What you can and can’t use telehealth for. 

Is telehealth covered by Medicare? 

If you have a valid Medicare card and meet the eligibility criteria, Medicare may help cover the cost of some out of hospital telehealth services. As a general rule of thumb, what you pay for an in-person consult will be what is charged for a telehealth appointment. Visit Services Australia or speak with your healthcare professional for more information. 

Can I use my private health insurance to claim telehealth for GP appointments? 

nib members who are Australian residents cannot use their private health insurance to claim telehealth.  

However our partnership with 24-7 MedCare means Australian residents can access a network of GPs available 24/7 and access exclusive, capped pricing for GP telehealth. All you need is your phone, tablet or computer and an internet connection to access secure and private consultations. 

Members with international student or worker cover can access telehealth using the nib App and it will be billed to nib directly for the telehealth appointment. 

What telehealth can I claim for on my private health insurance? 

nib members who carry a level of Extras cover which pays benefits for psychology, physiotherapy, dietetics, speech pathology, occupational therapy, exercise physiology and podiatry, and hospital cover for rehabilitation care, can use their cover to claim on appropriate treatment via telehealth appointments.1 

Find the telehealth service you need or get to know more about telehealth and your cover.

1nib will cover appropriate treatment using telehealth for eligible members with recognised providers. This is subject to your chosen level of cover, availability at your chosen clinic, policy exclusions, waiting periods and limits. May not be appropriate for all consultations. Only individual telehealth consultations are covered, groups and classes are currently not funded for telehealth. nib Fund Rules and Policy Booklet Terms apply.