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COVID-19: Ophthalmology Practice


Can we ask patients if they have been overseas before they attend an appointment?

  • Yes. If talking on the phone, recommend asking this prior to attending.
  • Recommend that patient intake forms include questions on travel and exposure to infected patients, or close contact with people who have travelled to a high risk area.
  • Delay non-urgent appointments for 14 days after recent travel or contact history that puts patient in a higher risk group.

Do staff get paid sick leave if they have to self-quarantine?

  • RANZCO cannot provide employment advice.
  • Members should read advice from local health departments or seek advice from their medical indemnity insurer. MDOs do have legal and HR teams that can support you.

What should I do if I have planned international or interstate travel?

  • This is an individual decision made after consultation with the evolving DHHS travel advice, government directives, the status of State and international border closures and quarantine periods and considering your travel insurance.
  • It is also important to note that you may not be covered for any health care provided to you while you are overseas, including stays in ICU.

Should we be reducing external guests coming to our practices (i.e. representatives)?

  • Yes. Postpone non-essential meetings with guests.

Should my staff and I have seasonal fluvax?

  • Yes. All healthcare workers are recommended to have fluvax ASAP. This will not prevent coronavirus infection but it reduces the risk of a dual infection.

How will senior Ophthalmologists and trainees work?

  • Follow the state-by-state guidelines issued by your hospital.

What are the temporary changes affecting locum tenens?

In order to provide greater flexibility to health professionals responding to the COVID-19 situation, the Department of Health will extend the locum tenens period from two weeks to twelve weeks. This extension is a temporary change to support the COVID-19 response, reducing the number of Medicare provider number applications and allowing faster processing of applications for health professionals who must have a Medicare provider number for each practice.

The Department of Health is also looking at what else can be done to minimise administrative burden relating to provider number issues, including possible extension of current 19AB placements and 3GA programs. Once confirmed, the Department will write to each medical practitioner with details of any extensions provided. Information will also be provided to peak bodies, colleges and through Services Australia.

What are the locum tenens
The locum tenens are provisions in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) that allow eligible doctors and any other health professionals claiming Medicare benefits to use their existing provider number at a new practice if:

  • the period is less than two weeks; and
  • the health professional will be returning to the original practice.

Who does it apply to?
To be eligible under the locum tenens a doctor must be either:

  • an Australian trained doctor who has fellowship of an Australian medical college; or
  • an overseas trained doctor who holds fellowship of an Australian medical college and has completed their 10 year moratorium; or
  • a doctor working in a hospital with a Medicare provider number to refer patients to a specialist or request diagnostic imaging or pathology only.

All other health professionals including allied health, optometrists with an Undertaking and dentists are eligible for this change.

Who is not eligible?
Doctors who are not eligible under the locum tenens and must have a Medicare provider number for each practice include:

  • overseas trained doctors and foreign graduates of an accredited medical school subject to section 19AB, commonly known as the 10 year moratorium; and
  • doctors who do not hold fellowship of an Australian medical college participating in a workforce or training program (3GA program – e.g. Approved Medical Deputising Service Program (AMDS) or Australian General Practice Training Program (AGPT)); and
  • doctors who participate in one of the Other Medical Practitioner Programs (OMPs – e.g. the Rural Other Medical Practitioner Program (ROMPs), After Hours Other Medical Practitioner Program AHOMPs).

What has changed
The Department of Health will extend the locum tenens period from two weeks to twelve weeks. This means a health professional will be able to provide services at a new practice for a period of twelve weeks without making an application for a Medicare provider number, reducing the administrative burden and allowing health professionals to focus on providing care to patients.

What hasn’t changed?
There has been no change to the health professionals eligible for the locum tenens.

Restricted doctors who need a section 19AB exemption or a 3GA placement must still make an application for a section 19AB exemption or a placement. Participants in the OMPs programs are granted access to a higher Medicare rebate at a specific location. These Medicare provider numbers cannot be used at another practice because each new location must be assessed to determine if it is eligible for higher rebates under one of the OMPs programs.

What happens after twelve weeks?
We are currently operating in a rapidly changing environment. The Department of Health is continually reviewing their policy settings to support the health workforce and the Australian community. They will provide updated advice over the coming months.

Last updated: April 3, 2020

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