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Can you get a doctor’s note for work without going to a doctor?

A woman curls up on her window ledge holding a hot cup of a tea while looking at her phone

Telehealth and how you can get a sick note from your bed

A woman curls up on her window ledge holding a hot cup of a tea while looking at her phone

It's 10am on a Monday morning. You're in bed with a runny nose and pounding headache. You've let your boss know you've come down with the cold that’s been making its way through the office. You need to rest, but first you have to drag yourself out of bed, get dressed, drive to the doctor's office, find a park and wait for half an hour (if you're lucky) to see a GP. And then, as you're handed your medical certificate, the doctor will probably advise that you get some rest!
With so many employers requiring a doctor's certificate – even for one day of sick leave – this inconvenience is often a necessity.

"There has to be an easier way," you mutter. And there is.

It’s called telehealth.

Imagine instead: you chat to a doctor via video link from the comfort of your own bed, then pull up the doona and catch up on Netflix, only dragging yourself out of bed to brew some chicken noodle soup for lunch. This is actually a possibility thanks to telehealth and virtual doctors.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth is a virtual consultation via phone or video conferencing, instead of a traditional in-clinic consult.

Telehealth is becoming more accessible as many of us are opting to stay at home to minimise our risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. Some doctors, specialists and allied health professionals are now offering telehealth consultations, so you can still have your regular appointments and receive the support you need for your health concerns without physically attending a clinic.

GP Dr Sam Ioannidis sees telehealth as a way forward, and he says there are many Australian patients in doctors' waiting rooms who don't need to be there.

"A good proportion of patients in the waiting room don't need to see their doctor face to face, and an online conference is sufficient."

A sick young woman sitting in bed on her laptop

Stay in bed all day – and other benefits

Dr Ioannidis says he has patients who videoconference from their beds, but what other benefits does the technology offer?

Efficiency is a major plus for patients, Dr Ioannidis says, especially when you're only seeing the doctor for something like a repeat prescription. It can also be much more convenient. "One person told me she no longer needs to take time off work to be treated for a urinary tract infection."

Dr Ioannidis's virtual doctor services, provided through the Doctors on Demand platform, have been well received.

"Many patients have told me that they were very happy that the service is available. Telehealth has the potential to improve the availability of doctors throughout Australia and it also expands the patient's choice of who to consult."

Several virtual doctor services offer round-the-clock care. Improved community healthcare outcomes are another possibility, with telehealth available to many patients who may not choose to see a doctor in person or who would otherwise slip between the cracks.

Are there pitfalls?

If you're worried about an increased possibility of misdiagnosis, don't be. "We don't believe this is an issue," says John Martin, Doctors on Demand Director and Co-Founder. "If a consult isn't appropriate for a video consultation, patients can be directed to see their GP for a face-to-face appointment."

There are, of course, some situations that can't be dealt with online, including those requiring physical examinations.

Related: Everything you need to know about bulk-billing

What if you're not really sick?

Let's imagine that you don't really have a cold but are recovering from a big weekend. Will it be easier to fake a sickie using a virtual doctor?

"Like a face-to-face appointment, a GP has to rely on the honesty of the patient," Martin says. "Experienced doctors use their extensive professional judgement, whether they are consulting via videoconference or face to face."

While person-to-person healthcare delivery remains the gold standard, telehealth technology is a path to more convenient health services and good health outcomes in many situations.

Can I claim for telehealth with nib?

Check out our telehealth services page to find out more.

Need to head to hospital?

If you're an nib member heading to hospital soon, make sure you check out our Going to Hospital page. This tool gives you information on health insurance, tips on how to reduce any out-of-pocket expenses and helpful questions to ask your specialist. To find out the details of your current policy, chat to someone about your upcoming hospital visit or get some guidance, call us on 13 16 42.

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