The virtual doctor's appointment
'Telehealth' or 'e-health' allows for a medical consultation to take place via video
conferencing or audio over the internet. Telehealth services can include
diagnosis, treatment and preventive healthcare.
Not all doctor/patient consults lend themselves to a virtual
experience, particularly those where an examination or test is needed on
the spot. However, one e-health provider we spoke to claims that up to 80% of GP presentations can be managed online – particularly for health
issues such as common coughs and colds, weight loss, sexual health and
emotional wellbeing. It's also possible to request specialist referrals, prescription
repeats and medical certificates via email or fax after an initial online (or real-life) consultation.
All the e-health websites we looked at state clearly that they aren't for medical
Is there a Medicare rebate for online consultations?
Medicare rebates for telehealth are available to eligible patients for
specialist consultations only (not GP appointments).
An eligible patient is:
not an admitted patient; and
eligible for Medicare rebates; and
- located in an eligible geographical area and more than 15km from the
specialist at the time of consultation.
Telehealth-eligible areas are outside of metropolitan areas, in Remoteness
Area classifications 2–5 (under the Australian Standard Geographic
Additionally, telehealth MBS items for specialist consultations may be
available for patients at an eligible residential aged care facility or an
eligible Aboriginal medical service, irrespective of location.
What if I don't live in a remote area?
So why isn't telehealth covered by Medicare more broadly? According to the Federal Department of Health there are significant considerations
associated with expansion of telehealth services under Medicare, including
health workforce measures in regional and rural areas and supporting the
medical profession's position that face-to-face consultations are the
And the service is not likely to see more rebates anytime soon as all
proposals for expansion of Medicare would need to be considered by the
Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC) and additional funding would
need to be considered through normal budget processes. According to the department, at this time there are no applications to expand the service to
include GPs as well as specialists.
Finding online consultation services
If you're still keen on the convenience of an online consult, even at a
cost, anyone with a Medicare card can use a telehealth facility if they
have decent internet support and equipment. While you can contact your GP
to see if they offer a service directly, there are also online-only
companies that offer consultations to all Australians.
GP2U offers online consults with GPs for diagnosis, specialist referrals,
prescriptions and medical certificates. The service also offers
prescriptions faxed to the nearest chemist or a delivery service.
Cost: Registration is free and requires a Medicare card, contact number and
email address. Consultation prices are set by individual GPs and are based
on the length of appointment. Average consultation length is 15 minutes and
typically costs $50–69.
Readycare offers video and phone consults with Australian-based GPs 24/7
and is designed to supplement a patient's regular GP. The service provides
medical consults and advice, medical certificates and prescriptions if
Doctors on Demand provides video conferencing 24/7 for medical
consultations, prescriptions and medical certificates. An app is available
for IOS and Android.
Consults start at $60
Things to look out for if you use an online consultation
- The providers generally do not guarantee that a video consultation is the
appropriate course of treatment for your particular healthcare problem, as
some patients will need an examination in person.
- You'll need decent internet coverage to be able to use these services. Be
sure to check the provider's policies on refunds when it comes to
technology failures and problems with connections.
Other online health assistance
If you're not quite ready for a virtual doctor's appointment there are
still plenty of apps and websites to help you get ahead before you get into
the waiting room queue.
Symptom checker and service search
The government-supported website Health Direct contains a wealth of
information on health topics from pregnancy and ageing right through to
general health. It also provides in-depth information on medicines and
If you're feeling off-colour, the site has a symptom checker which
allows users to be virtually triaged according to the symptoms they are
experiencing. The program collects basic data such as age, gender and
postcode before asking a series of detailed questions about symptoms, then
provides a recommendation to see a GP or go to a hospital. It records your
answers and gives you a reference number so when you do see a health
practitioner they can call in to review the list of symptoms recorded by
The site lets you search for GPs, hospitals, dentists and allied
health practitioners local to the postcode that you've entered.
Health Direct also has a 24-hour phone service (1800 022 222) staffed by
registered nurses who can connect you to an after-hours GP helpline if
There's also a separate phone line for pregnancy, birth and baby advice
(1800 882 436).
Find out emergency room wait times
Waiting times at the doctor's surgery or hospital can sometimes stretch to
hours. But these handy sites and apps can help you dodge the worst of the
waiting room blues.
- In NSW, www.emergencywait.health.nsw.gov.au will show the waiting times for emergency departments for all major
- In WA, real-time information is available on health.wa.gov.au for all public hospitals in the state.
In the ACT, health.act.gov.au can give you up-to-date information on current waiting times,
projected waiting times for the next two hours and data on overall
patient traffic in emergency departments.
- In SA, sahealth.sa.gov.au gives updates every 30 minutes on the number of patients in the
emergency and inpatient areas of the state's major public hospitals.
- In Victoria you can't access live data but performance.health.vic.gov.au has estimated waiting times for major hospitals.
- In Queensland, Tasmania and the NT you'll be relying on good fortune
rather than data to dodge the long wait, as there is little live
information available, though you can check with the relevant health
department in that state for further information.
Making appointments online
Most of us have a preferred GP and when it's not an emergency we're happy
to wait a few days until they have an available slot. But what about when
we can't wait a day or two? Online booking services let you view the
available appointments in your chosen area in real time and make a booking
The Health Engine website and app (iOS/Android) let you view in real time the available
appointments with participating GPs, dentists, physios and more, and then make a booking.
Cost: The service is free, but it does send direct marketing communications
including mail, telephone calls, SMS or email to customers who register for
the service which you can choose to opt-out.
ozdocsonline lets patients ask participating GPs for online
appointment bookings, prescriptions, pathology results, referrals and
The service isn't covered by Medicare but the site claims the average
cost for requests is $20.
DocBook is another website that lets patients browse practices, search
by location and make an appointment with a GP. The service is available in
NSW, Victoria, WA, SA and Queensland, though the choice of participating
surgeries is fairly limited.
Just need a doctor's certificate?
You've woken up on a workday feeling dreadful and call in sick, but you'll need to produce a medical certificate. The last thing you feel like
doing is leaving the couch in search of a doctor to write you a
certificate. Turns out there are sites that can help you with that too.
Dr Sicknote will set you up with a Skype consultation with a GP to discuss
the issuing of a medical certificate or a referral to a specialist. If a
medical certificate is required it will be emailed after the online consult
by midnight that night.
: $19.99 and there's no Medicare rebate option. The service offers a refund
if a medical certificate cannot be issued for any reason or if the
certificate is not dispatched by midnight on the day of the consult.
Medical Certificate Online offers a similar service to Dr Sicknote but has
the option of an audio consult if you don't have a camera available.
Cost: $39.95 and there are no refunds if a medical certificate is not
The National Home Doctor Service (13SICK) provides urgent after-hours
medical care to patients at home in most capital cities. The service offers
bulk billing for all Medicare users and Gold DVA cardholders.
You can book via phone (13 74 25) or via the app (iOS/Android).