How COVID-19 changed the way Australians accessed health services in 2019-20

In a year in which we saw unprecedented change to health care both here in Australia, and across the world, it is no surprise to find there was a drastic change in the way in which Australians accessed their health services and products.


Initially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government introduced a range of temporary telehealth services to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), separated into three categories; face-to-face items, telehealth items via video-conference, and telephone items for when video-conferencing is not available.

Since the introduction in March 2020 there was some variability in usage of services across different health professional groups with the change in mode of delivery most pronounced in April 2020. While the total number of consultations increased by 16% when compared to April 2019, face-to-face consultations decreased, dropping 24% when compared to April 2019. This decrease in face-to-face consultations was offset by a large volume of consultations delivered via telephone and video-conference.

For General Practitioners, the introduction of telehealth items increased steadily from March 2020, and more than one third (36%) of the services were provided via telephone and video-conference in April 2020.

Specialist attendances in April 2020 dropped significantly overall (16% from March 2020) but the services provided via telephone and video-conference increased significantly (388% compared with March 2020).

Allied health has experienced a significant increase in utilisation of MBS telehealth consultations. Since April 2020 about half of the telehealth consultations were through video-conferences.

* View detailed percentage of services, COVID-19 related MBS items, by mode of delivery, March to August 2020 below

continence products 

Further to the changes in the way Australians accessed health care services, data captured from the National Continence Helpline (NCHL) found there were changes to the way in which Australians accessed continence products.

Data collected from the helpline staff found that over 85% of the callers main source of continence product purchases were made at either the pharmacy or supermarket however during the pandemic, over 20% of callers were forced to shop around to seek alternative suppliers . Nearly 10% also reported a lack of availability of their needed product and/or having to change product.

In terms of shopping frequency, 19% reported having to shop more frequently however despite a national trend towards online shopping, less than 10% of callers reported changing to online ordering or switching to online suppliers.

In terms of the personal impact, there was increased concern and anxiety for more than a quarter of callers nationally, with increased worry highest in NSW and Victoria. 43 callers also reported an increased dependence on others – often for in-person or online shopping for supplies.

As the pandemic continues to affect how we go about our daily lives, including how we access products and services, we as health care professionals need to continue to innovate and adapt to ensure we can provide the best care to our community today and into the future.

The Foundation will continue to work with its members to ensure the best information and support is available in these difficult times.

*Percentage of services, COVID-19 related MBS items, by mode of delivery, March to August 2020


Face-to-face                      70%

Telephone                           29%

Video-conference             1%


Face-to-face                      78%

Telephone                           18%

Video-conference             4%         

Allied health

Face-to-face                      81%

Telephone                           9%

Video-conference             10%