Physiotherapy and psychology proving most popular telehealth services during COVID-19


Australians have started to embrace phone and video consultations for ancillary health services during COVID-19, with new data from Bupa revealing physiotherapy and psychology are so far the most popular telehealth services.

Bupa, Australia’s largest health insurer, announced on 25 March 2020 that it would pay claims for psychology, physiotherapy, counselling, occupational therapy, speech pathology, exercise physiology and dietetics delivered via telehealth. The move came as access to ancillary services, or Extras, was impacted by social distancing measures due to COVID-19.

Emily Amos, Bupa’s Managing Director of Health Insurance, said that, while initial numbers of claims were small, they’ve been growing since Easter.

“In the past two weeks, since providers have implemented the technology, we’ve started to see claims come in for services delivered by phone or video,” Ms Amos said.

“Psychology was the early pace setter, most likely because it was easiest to adopt, however physiotherapy has since overtaken it as the most popular with speech pathology the third most common telehealth claim.”

“While the numbers of claims are nowhere near our usual claim numbers, it shows people are adapting where they can. We expect these will continue to increase as it becomes more common place.

“Unfortunately, telehealth is not appropriate for all treatments and in many cases face-to-face consultations will still be needed, but we’re glad this is providing a solution for a growing number of customers and providers,” Ms Amos said.

Bupa also revealed that while COVID-19 had resulted in a decrease in claims for elective procedures, claims for other services – including childbirth, cancer and dialysis – were largely unchanged during the period.

“We’ve been contacted by people confirming if they would be covered before having an operation or procedure for things like IVF and knee and hip replacements drop quite significantly in line with the introduction of social distancing. This will change with the gradual return of elective surgery announced last week, but not unexpectedly there was barely any change in checks for childbirth, oncology and dialysis,” Ms Amos said.

The company has also supported members suffering financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 through a $50 million assistance package. To date more than 22,000 applications have been received since the initiative was announced last month.

“As a health and care company we want to support our customers through this pandemic and we encourage anyone experiencing financial difficulties as a result of job loss or other circumstances relating to COVID-19 to apply,” Ms Amos said.