Health Professionals

COVID-19 Health Professional Webinar Series

Lung Foundation Australia, supported by an independent educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim, presents the COVID-19 webinar series featuring our Chairperson, Professor Christine Jenkins AM. These two, 60-minute live webinars, provide updates on the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia and what we have learned so far from other countries, and on the front lines.

To help us continue to provide valuable information about COVID-19 to our health professional audience, please take two minutes to complete a short survey below about the previous webinars. Take this opportunity to sign up and receive news and health professional information from Lung Foundation Australia.

Latest news

June Update – Agency for Clinical Innovation NSW Health update on the latest advice on Lung Function Testing during COVID 19. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lung Function testing should only be performed where indicated and the following advice considered. Find out more, here. 

1 May 2020 – Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme restriction requirement exemptions for some medicines during the COVID 19 pandemic: The Australian Government is implementing a temporary measure from 1 May 2020 to allow some flexibility around PBS restrictions for eligible PBS medicines to ensure continued treatment for patients during the COVID-19 crisis.Where a treating medical professional considers that a patient taking an eligible PBS medicine should be exempt from any specific Authority Required PBS restriction requirement, as it may put the patient at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, or cannot be completed due to social distancing or isolation requirements, a request for exemption for that PBS restriction requirement will be able to be lodged with Services Australia (Medicare) from 1 May 2020. The request for exemption will need to be included with the authority request through the normal process. Find out more and view eligible PBS medicines here.

30 May 2020 – Update from TSANZ and ANZSRS on the suspension of lung function testing. The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australia New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science (ANZSRS) have advised that all pulmonary function testing can now be resumed, subject to additional safety requirements.  These include ensuring patients have no symptoms of a viral illness, including fever and the use of equipment that uses in-line bio-filers.  Click here to access the statement.

14 April 2020 – Clinical Excellence Queensland’s primary care team maintain a register of all fever and respiratory clinics across Queensland. The latest version (14 April 2020) includes locations, contact details, operating hours and instructions for consumers accessing a particular clinic. For more information or to advise of any amendments, please email COVID19_PC@health.qld.gov.au.

31 March 2020 – Media release from The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP): RACGP is urging patients to get their influenza vaccination from their GP earlier than usual to reduce strain on the health system caused by COVID-19. RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said with COVID-19 spreading across Australia, this year it was more important than ever for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
See the full media release and information for GPs on COVID-19 click here.

31 March 2020 – Expansion of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Continued Dispensing Arrangements COVID-19: The Australian Government has extended the Temporary Continued Dispensing (Emergency Measures) for three months to 30 June 2020, to assist in managing the demand on the health system during the COVID-19 outbreak. An extension of these arrangements will provide another option for consumers to continue to access their PBS subsidised medicines, if they are having difficulty accessing a prescriber to obtain a valid prescription. Pharmacists are expected to adhere to the strict set of professional guidelines available on the PSA website. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia has fact sheets on the emergency supply of medicines, and Services Australia provides an Education guide on the Continued Dispensing Initiative

31 March 2020 – Lung function testing announcement from Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science (ANZSRS): Peak respiratory bodies recommend suspension of lung function testing and aerosol generating respiratory therapies during COVID-19 pandemic. As the current COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves, the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Science (ANZSRS) have recommended suspending the use of spirometry testing unless deemed clinically essential by a respiratory physician, due to the potential risk of transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. TSANZ and ANZSRS also highlight the risk of some respiratory therapies which produce aerosols as they can transmit viral infection. These include nebulisation, high flow oxygen, non-invasive ventilation, and cough assist devices. Read the complete statement from TSANZ and ANZSRS.

 

Key information:  

  • The median incubation period for the novel coronavirus is 5 days. Symptoms may not appear until 11-12 days. 
  • Social distancing and enhanced hygiene may reduce both the number and severity of cases. 
  • People living with a respiratory disease are at higher risk of severe cases of COVID-19. 
  • Patients should have their Action Plans uptodate and have adequate supply of both daily and emergency medications. 
  • Patients should be prompted to check the dates on previously issued scripts. 
  • Patients should be encouraged to avoid the use of nebulisers as this can increase the spread of viruses. 
  • Patients should be advised not to share their inhaler devices or spaces with family members or other people. 
  • Encourage patients to engage in a home-based physical activity program. Some programs are being provided by digital platforms such as Skype. Contact your local provider to find out if alternative services are on offer. 
  • If your patient is receiving chemotherapy, prompt them to speak to their treating specialist about what precautions are in place within the treating centre. Most major centres remain open and are operating as normal.  
  • If your patient has a loved-one in hospital, they should seek the advice of the hospital before visitingIn general, the number of well visitors to hospitals is being limited to reduce potential exposure for patients and health workers.

Testing 

There is a world-wide shortage of pathology consumables and the following testing advice is in place. COVID-19 testing should only occur if a person:  

  • has fever or acute respiratory symptoms; and has travelled overseas within the previous 14 days
  • had recent close contact (previous 14 days) with a confirmed case of COVID-19 
  • Has severe community-acquired pneumonia requiring admission with no other identifiable cause.

If a patient is in self-quarantine and remains well, there is no benefit in testing. A negative test result will not shorten the quarantine period as the test will remain negative until the person develops infection. This may take up to 14 days. 

If the treating clinician has a strong index of suspicion of COVID-19 and if a positive case would have significant public health implications (e.g. an index case in a RCF) then testing outside the case definition may be considered.

A new temporary item has been added to the MBS for a dedicated bulk billed pathology test for detecting SARS-COV-2. GPs can request a COVID-19 test at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient if the requesting medical practitioner suspects their patient is at risk of having COVID-19. A suspect case is defined as: 

  • International travel undertaken in the 14 days before illness onset OR close or casual contact within 14 days before illness onset with person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Fever OR acute respiratory infection (e.g. shortness of breath, cough, sore throat) with or without fever
  • If the patient has bilateral severe community-acquired pneumonia (critically ill) and no other cause is identified, with or without recent international travel, they are classified as a suspect case 
  • If the patient has moderate or severe community-acquired pneumonia (hospitalised) and is a healthcare worker, with or without international travel, they are classified as a suspect case. 

Respiratory clinics 

For information on COVID-19 clinics in your area, please refer to your state health department or local PHN website.

The Australian Government is rapidly establishing GP respiratory clinics around the country to clinically assess people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms (a fever, cough, shortness of breath, a sore throat and/or tiredness). The clinics are in addition to services available within public hospitals and general practices. To see if a GP respiratory clinic is available in your area click here.

In Victoria a centralised map of all hospital, GP and community health based respiratory clinics is available here. This provides consumers and primary care practitioners with locations, contact details  and operating hours of local coronavirus (COVID-19) testing clinics across Victoria.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 

PPE supplies are being affected nationally. State Health departments are working with the Australian Government to ensure there is adequate stock. Some PPE supplies have already been released from the National Medical Stockpile, including surgical masks and P2/N95 respirators for general practices (including Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services), and community pharmacies with a demonstrated need. These are held by local Primary Health Networks.

If you feel you have a demonstrated need for PPE, please contact your local PHN to request access to this supply. 

 

Fever clinics

Some public hospitals are also opening fever clinics. Fever clinics are generally staffed by nurses. They are not the same as a GP respiratory clinic but they also help to reduce pressure on emergency departments and other services. Visit your state or territory health department website for more information on state and territory fever clinics and other services.

In QLD a centralised list of fever and respiratory clinics is maintained. The latest version includes locations, contact details, operating hours and instructions for consumers accessing a particular clinic. Note: this list is regularly updated by Queensland Health; bookmarking the link (rather than printing) is recommended. If you are located outside of QLD, visit your state or territory health department website for more information on state and territory fever clinics and other services.

Telehealth  

Telehealth

A new temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item for telehealth has been created to support GPs in providing consultation services by videoconference or phone, to people isolating at home, people who meet the testing guidelines, and vulnerable groups. Services are available nationally – there are no geographical restrictions on patient eligibility.  

Focussed Psychological Strategies (FPS) is also available via telehealth service if : 

  • The patient is at risk of COVID-19 virus  
  • The patient is assessed for mental disorders 
  • The practitioner is registered with Medicare as a credentialed Provider of Focussed Psychological Strategies* 

*Requires competition of Mental Health Skills Training Level 2 (FPS) as accredited by GPMHSC training standards. 

The new telehealth items will also mean that GPs can continue to provide services from their own home, if they isolate themselves. Clinical requirements and rebates of the telehealth services will be the same as an equivalent facetoface service. For example, a Level B consultation will attract a rebate of $32.80. All services delivered via telehealth using these items must be bulk billed. Services to concessional patients will continue to attract the bulk billing incentive. 

COVID-19 infection control training

This 30-minute online training module is for health care workers in all settings. It covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19.

This training is for care workers across all health care settings, including:

  • hospitals
  • primary care
  • aged care (both in residential aged care facilities or with visiting carers at home, including cleaners and cooks)
  • disability (both in residential/shared care facilities or part-time carers in people’s homes, including cleaners and cooks)
  • allied health
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services
  • pharmacies
  • dental practices, including dentists, nurses, cleaners and receptionists

This training module covers the fundamentals of infection prevention and control for COVID-19 including:

  • COVID-19 – what is it?
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Keeping safe – protecting yourself and others
  • Myth busting

 

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