The Medical Board of Australia (MBA) has issued updated guidelines for telehealth consultations between medical doctors and patients that will take effect from 1 September 2023 (accessible here). The current guidelines (summarised in our interactive global telehealth guide) will continue to be in effect until 31 August 2023.
The MBA defines ‘telehealth consultations’ as “consultations that use technology as an alternative to in-person consultations between a patient and medical practitioner (doctor)”. This is a broad definition and includes video, internet and telephone consultations, the electronic transmission of digital images and data, and the electronic prescribing of medicines.
As part of the updated guidelines, the MBA has noted that:
- telehealth is generally most appropriate as a supplement to in-person consultations as part of an ongoing clinical relationship, rather than a routine substitute; and
- when practical, video consultations are preferred to telephone consultations.
Prescribing medicines or providing healthcare without a real-time consultation
Separately, the MBA has expressly noted that it does not support the prescribing of medicines or the provision of healthcare by a medical doctor to a patient, where the patient has never had a real-time direct consultation with the doctor, whether in-person or via video or telephone.
This includes the prescribing of medicines using asynchronous communication systems, including text messages, email or any other facilities that do not involve a direct, real-time, continuous dialogue between the doctor and patient, such as telehealth models based on patients completing a health questionnaire, without the doctor ever speaking to the patient.
The MBA has stated that any medical doctor who prescribes medicines for patients in this manner must be able to explain how such prescribing was appropriate and necessary in the circumstances. The manner in which these guidelines will be enforced will become apparent after 1 September 2023, when they take effect.
Best-practice guidance for telehealth consultations
The MBA has also provided comprehensive, best-practice guidelines for medical doctors who are conducting telehealth consultations. This is to ensure that the standard of care provided by doctors in a telehealth consultation are, as far as possible, the same as those provided in an in-person consultation.
As part of the updated guidelines, the MBA has clarified the registration requirements of medical doctors who use telehealth consultations to provide their services across geographical borders.
Regardless of their own physical location, medical doctors who consult with patients located in Australia must be registered with the MBA and meet all applicable registration requirements, which include requirements relating to recency of practice, continuing professional development and professional indemnity insurance. They must also meet any applicable requirements imposed by regulators in their local jurisdictions.
Doctors in Australia who consult with patients located outside of Australia must be registered in Australia. They must also determine whether they need to be registered in the country or countries where their patients are located.
In situations where either the doctor or the patient is located outside of Australia, the doctor should be aware of and inform their patients of whether or not Medicare billing for the telehealth service is available in the circumstances.
Anticipated follow-on effects
We expect that the MBA will apply greater scrutiny to telehealth consultations between medical doctors and patients, including, in particular, using asynchronous telehealth systems or modalities. For any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact our experienced team.
Are you interested in operating telehealth services in global markets? Our newly updated interactive Global Telehealth Guide website enables users to navigate and compare the legal and regulatory regimes for telehealth in 50+ countries across five continents. This can be found here: DLA Piper Telehealth Around the World (dlapiperintelligence.com)