The coronavirus pandemic has vastly changed Australian lifestyles, leading to unwanted ‘COVID kilos’ for some, due to different food choices, eating habits, stress and a lack of exercise during lockdown.
But Dietitians Australia said it’s also presented an opportunity for many people to make life-changing and in some cases, life-saving choices, through better access to dietetic support via telehealth.
In March this year, the Federal Government added dietetic consultations to the COVID-19 temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for telehealth services. This provided subsidised access to nutrition support for many Australians living with a chronic disease.
The Association is calling for an extension to government funded telehealth dietetic services beyond 30 September to ensure all Australians, regardless of where they live, can continue to receive high-quality nutrition care. This is backed by an evidence-based position statement, published in Nutrition & Dietetics.
“Dietetic consultations via telephone and video conferencing have been an extremely important service to our communities during the past three months,” says Tara Diversi, Accredited Practising Dietitian and President of the Dietitians Australia.
“These sessions via telehealth were found to be both cost-effective and as successful as face-to-face delivery of medical nutrition therapy for weight management, malnutrition and the management of a number of chronic health conditions.”
Many Australians have benefited from this initiative, including Harry, a budding footballer from Melbourne, to Kerri, a Gold-Coast based Paralympian seeking dietetic support to help manage her diabetes. Harry and Kerri have shared their experience (as seen in the accompanying case studies).
Access to government subsidised telehealth dietetic services begins with a referral from a GP. Between March and May 2020, there were more than 49,000 appointments for allied health practitioners under the temporary COVID-19 telehealth MBS items for chronic disease management.2
“Having Medicare subsidised telehealth consultations with dietitians has not only helped reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, it’s allowed greater health care access for people who live in remote and regional areas, those who are time poor or find it difficult to travel,” says Ms Diversi.
“Eating the right foods to support our mental health is also crucial in this time of change.”
“It would be a detriment to the health of all Australians, if the Federal Government was to revert back to only providing Medicare and Department of Veterans’ Affairs subsidies for face-to-face appointments.”
Nutrition‐related chronic diseases are the leading cause of ill health in Australia, affecting more than seven million Australians.1
“Increasing access to dietitians via telehealth will make it easier for Australians to put their health first and navigate the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our lifestyles, while reducing inequality for people living in areas where face to face support isn’t as readily available,” says Ms Diversi.
1Kelly, JT, Allman‐Farinelli, M, Chen, J, et al. Dietitians Australia position statement on telehealth. Nutr Diet. 2020; 1– 10. https://doi.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12619
2Medicare Benefits Schedule (2020). Requested Item Report: Medicare items processed from March 2020- May 2020 for item no. 93000 and 93013. Medicare Australia. Available from: http://medicarestatistics.humanservices.gov.au/statistics/do.jsp?_PROGRAM=%2Fstatistics%2Fmbs_item_standard_report&DRILL=ag&group=93000%2C+93013&VAR=services&STAT=count&RPT_FMT=by+state&PTYPE=month&START_DT=202003&END_DT=202005
Nutrition & Dietetics Journal
Nutrition & Dietetics is the scientific journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia. It is Australia’s leading peer-reviewed journal in its field and is published five times a year (February, April, July, September and November) by Wiley. For information on subscribing to Nutrition & Dietetics, including receiving new content alerts, visit the Wiley Online Library.
Text by: Dietitians Australia