New study of GP prescribing during the pandemic: telehealth goes up, URTIs go down, and much more!

A new report reveals some of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on general practice in Australia - finding short-term changes in prescribing, fewer acute upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and more telehealth – especially during outbreaks.

The fourth General Practice Insights Report, commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Health and released today by NPS MedicineWise, looks at around 2.5 million patients’ de-identified data in 2019-20 from the MedicineInsight program.

MedicineInsight contains data from participating general practices, covering 10.7% of all Australian GPs and 11.1% of all patients seen by GPs nationally – a sample representative of all people seen by GPs nationally. The data shows common chronic health conditions and aspects of the clinical management the patients received, including changes observed during the pandemic.

“The data shows us that great use was made of the newly publicly-funded telehealth consultations throughout the pandemic,” said NPS MedicineWise CEO Katherine Burchfield.

“From March 2020 to December 2020 almost three in ten of all consultations were virtual with particularly high usage in Victoria during the Melbourne second wave of the pandemic. Despite concerns that patients would see their GP less often during the pandemic, the overall number of consultations (including telehealth consultations) increased by 11% in this period.

“In March 2020 as the pandemic started, rates of medical and pathology testing decreased while prescribing of medicines for many chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes increased. People may have been ensuring they had enough supplies of their medicines before lockdown. Rates of prescribing and testing returned to pre-pandemic levels from June 2020 onwards.

“One silver lining was that the rate of visits to the doctor with acute respiratory tract infections more than halved,” she said.

The General Practice Insights Report also provides information on how often patients visit the doctor, the conditions they have, the medicines they are prescribed and the tests they undertake.

“The increasing number of projects and scientific publications using MedicineInsight data is a tribute to its growing importance in informing policy and research to improve the health outcomes for all Australians,” says Ms Burchfield.

“MedicineInsight data are valuable as part of NPS MedicineWise quality improvement projects. Participating MedicineInsight general practices are receiving quality improvement reports along with a discussion with an NPS MedicineWise educational visitor about their own patterns of diagnosis, prescribing and patient care in treating this serious condition.

“MedicineInsight is only possible thanks to the general practices around Australia that share their de-identified data. Combined with the excellent data-governance framework, the MedicineInsight data is increasingly being used to improve health care delivery and ultimately improve the health of Australians,” she says.

To read the full General Practice Insights Report 2019-20, go to

About MedicineInsight

MedicineInsight is developed and managed by NPS MedicineWise, with funding from the Department of Health. It helps general practitioners to deliver high quality care to their patients. It does this by securely collecting de-identified clinical data from clinical information systems to help understand patient trends over time, identify service delivery opportunities and then providing this information back to general practitioners. The RACGP National Research and Evaluation Ethics Committee RACGP ethics committee has approved the standard operations and uses of the MedicineInsight program. For further information about MedicineInsight, visit


Media contact

Bernadette Withers: (02) 8217 8623, 0419 618 365 or [email protected]