How have temporary Medicare telehealth item numbers impacted the use of dietetics services in primary care settings?

Jaimon T. Kelly*, Alireza Ahmadvand, Centaine Snoswell, Lauren Ball

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Aim: The aim of the study was to describe the quantity and cost of in-person and telehealth dietetics services reimbursed under Australia's Medicare Benefits Scheme, before and during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Methods: Publicly available Medicare Benefits Scheme dietetics service activity data were extracted from an online database, between January 2019 and June 2021. For allied health telehealth items, it was assumed that between 10% and 20% of all consults were dietetic related. 

Results: Dietetics service claims reimbursed through the Medicare Benefits Scheme averaged 115 thousand per quarter in 2019. In quarter 2 of 2020, service delivery dropped by 25% compared to quarter 1 of 2020 and 32% compared to 2019. This drop recovered in quarters 3 and 4, with dietetic consultations claimed through the Medicare Benefits Scheme remaining relatively comparable to 2019 data. Dietetics services cost AUD 5,868,021 in quarter 1 2019 and AUD 5,742,632 in quarter 1 2020. Since the introduction of allied health telehealth items, the number of consultations claimed per quarter has accounted for between 17.7% (quarter 2 2020) and 4.5% (quarter 2 2021) of all consultations per quarter. 

Conclusions: The provision and costs of dietetics services in Australia have remained relatively constant compared to 2019 data, indicating telehealth was being used for substitutive rather than additive care, apart from an initial reduction of 25% between March and June 2020. The introduction of telehealth items for dietitians has been modest, peaking at 17.7% and now consistently averaging 5% of total dietetics services. The permanent implementation of telehealth items is unlikely to cause significant increases in cost or access and will assist Australians to eat better to support improved chronic disease outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-488
Number of pages8
JournalNutrition and Dietetics
Volume79
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022
Externally publishedYes

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