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Ten Tips for Telehealth & MND

Did you know that you can talk with your doctor using text, voice or video online from the comfort of home? Or that affordable online consultations with an MND specialist are available through the NDIS or Medicare?

Telehealth is a way of accessing medical care through phones, the internet and other sorts of information technology. In recent years, telehealth has become an important option for when a face-to-face consultation with a doctor is difficult, and especially now with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staying home is important to help reduce the spread of the pandemic, and the risk of much more serious problems for people with underlying health issues like MND. But staying home can also make getting routine medical care much harder, particularly for people living with MND.

To help make accessing medical care easier during the pandemic, we came up with 10 tips for managing telehealth and MND.

Who can use telehealth?
The Australian Government is expanding telehealth services that are subsidised through Medicare and the NDIS as part of its response to COVID-19. 

Anyone living with MND who wants to use telehealth services must be located in Australia, be eligible for Medicare and not currently in hospital. NDIS participants can access telehealth from support providers, including those offering speech and occupational therapy.

Carers and others supporting people living with MND may also be able to use telehealth – every person with a Medicare card will be eligible for telehealth funded through Medicare.

The expanded Medicare telehealth services will be available until 30 September 2020. Additional funding from the NDIS is available for 6 months from 25th March 2020, although this may change and more measures introduced.

Tip #1: Make sure your Medicare information is up-to-date, including registering for reimbursements online. If you have private health insurance, check to see if it offers any support for telehealth.

Tip #2: Carers may also want to look into telehealth for psychology and other services to help with wellbeing or other needs, particularly with the changes and new pressures of COVID-19.

What can I use telehealth for?
With telehealth, you can have an online consultation with your doctor, neurologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist or other health professionals. 

You can have an online consultation to: 
  • ask advice about changes to breathing, your diet and nutrition, how to manage fatigue and supporting your mental health 
  • get prescriptions for Riluzole, opioids, benzodiazepines and other medicines used in treating MND symptoms
  • talk through planning ahead and any advance care planning needs or changes you may need to make
  • organise referrals.
NDIS participants can use telehealth for the following areas of support:
  • Assistance with Daily Life (but not including Supported Independent Living)
  • Assistance with Social and Community Participation
  • Improved Health and Wellbeing (but not including personal training)
  • Improved Daily Living Skills.
  • Some consultations are still best when done face-to-face, however. If you need to have a blood test, a physical assessment or other more complex procedure, then speak with your doctor about how you can do this during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tip #3: Different health centres and MND clinics are at various stages in their ability to provide telehealth services, and some may be more limited than others. Check in with your health care team about what telehealth they can offer and when new telehealth services will become available.

Tip #4: You can have the support from a carer, friend or family member during a telehealth appointment. Discuss someone else being present with your doctor or health professional.

Tip #5: Your doctor or health professional can order imaging for pathology and diagnostic tests, which may be completed by email, fax, or mail.

How do I make a telehealth appointment?
Phone ahead to ask your doctor or others in your health care team about organising a telehealth consultation.

You may be required to complete some forms and provide relevant Medicare and patient information to set up the consultation, which can be done electronically.

Before using telehealth, NDIS participants and providers should discuss any risks, if the service can be delivered appropriately, and make sure they have the necessary technology and/or assistance from other people.

What does telehealth cost?
The telehealth services that are available through Medicare are bulk billed. If you pay via bulk billing, then your doctor or medical practitioner will send a bill to Medicare. You won’t pay out-of-pocket expenses.

However, the cost of phone calls or your internet access and devices won’t be covered by Medicare telehealth services.

Tip #6: Check with your doctor or health professional about the cost of your telehealth appointment before you agree to a consultation – the cost of their services may vary even though they have been encouraged to bulk bill.

Tip #7: Have a look at some new internet plans to see if you can find a more affordable option that helps reduce the overall costs of telehealth. Consumer agencies like the Australian Consumer Communications Network have guides that can help. 

If you are an NDIS participant, the Australian government suggests the use of Core supports budget flexibly across any of the Core support categories for getting the support you need with telehealth. Check your NDIS plan – allied health consults and assessment with telehealth can be conducted and funded by the NDIA.

What technology can I use for telehealth?
The Australian government recommends video conference technology like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Duo, GoToMeeting and others. 

If using video online is difficult or not available, speak with your doctor or other health professionals about using audio-only services via telephone.

Tip #8: If you experience issues with internet access, such as slower speeds and drop outs, you may be able to improve your internet access at home, by moving the location of your router, changing your router’s settings, and extending the reach of your wi-fi.

Tip #9: Free versions of video conference technology may not adhere to privacy and security laws. Speak with your doctor or health professional about how to best meet clinical requirements and privacy laws.

Tip #10: If you have trouble with speech, you may be able to use telehealth with the National Relay Service or check with your telehealth provider if you can use other communication devices.

More information
MND Australia COVID-19 Update
COVID-19 temporary MBS telehealth services fact sheets
What can you use a telehealth consult for and when should you physically visit your GP?
NDIS: Connecting and helping NDIS participants
Top Tips for Phones and Internet

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