Medicare Benefits Schedule - Note AN.0.14

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Referrals (Read in Connection with the Relevant Paragraphs at O.6)


Optometrists are required to refer a patient for medical attention when it becomes apparent to them that the patient's condition is such that it would be more appropriate for treatment to be undertaken by a medical practitioner.

Optometrists may refer patients directly to specialist ophthalmologists with the patient being able to claim benefits for the ophthalmologist's services at the referred specialist rate.

Optometrists may refer patients directly to another optometrist, based on the clinical needs of the patient.

A referral letter or note must have been issued by the optometrist for all such services provided by specialist ophthalmologists or optometrists in order for patients to be eligible for Medicare benefits at the referred rate. Unless such a letter or note has been provided, benefits will be paid at the non-referred  attendance rate, which has a lower rebate..

Medicare benefits at the referred rate are not paid for patients referred by optometrists to consultant physicians or to specialists other than ophthalmologists. See relevant paragraph regarding emergency situations.

What is a referral?

For the purposes of the optometric arrangements, a "referral" is a request to a specialist ophthalmologist or another optometrist for investigation, opinion, treatment and/or management of a condition or problem of a patient or for the performance of a specific examination(s) or test(s).

Subject to the exceptions in the paragraph below, for a valid "referral" to take place:

(a)              the referring optometrist must have turned their mind to the patient's need for referral and communicate relevant information about the patient to the specialist ophthalmologist or optometrist to whom the patient is referred (but this does not necessarily mean an attendance on the occasion of the referral);

(b)              the instrument of referral must be in writing by way of a letter or note and must be signed and dated by the referring optometrist; and

(c) the practitioner to whom the patient is referred must have received the instrument of referral on or prior to the occasion of the professional service to which the referral relates.

The exceptions to the requirements in the above paragraph are that:

(a)              sub-paragraphs (b) and (c) do not apply to an emergency situation where the specialist ophthalmologist was of the opinion that the service be rendered as quickly as possible (see paragraph below on emergency situations); and

(b)              sub-paragraph (c) does not apply to instances where a written referral was completed by a referring optometrist but was lost, stolen or destroyed.

Period for which referral is valid

A referral from an optometrist to an ophthalmologist is valid for twelve months unless the optometrist specifies on the referral that the referral is for a different period (e.g. three, six or eighteen months or valid indefinitely).

The referral applies for the period specified in the referral from the date that the ophthalmologist provides the first service to the patient. If there is no period specified in the referral then the referral is valid for twelve months from the date of the first service provided by the ophthalmologist.

Referrals for longer than twelve months should be made only when the patient's clinical condition requires continuing care and management.

An optometrist may write a new referral when a patient presents with a condition unrelated to the condition for which the previous referral to an ophthalmologist was written. In these circumstances Medicare benefits for the consultation with the ophthalmologist would be payable at initial consultation rates.

A new course of treatment for which Medicare benefits would be payable at the initial consultation rates will also be paid where the referring optometrist:

(a)              deems it necessary for the patient's condition to be reviewed; and

(b)              the patient is seen by the ophthalmologist outside the currency of the previous referral; and

(c)              the patient was last seen by the specialist ophthalmologist more than nine months earlier than the attendance following a new referral.

Self referral

Optometrists may refer themselves to specialist ophthalmologists or other optometrists and Medicare benefits are payable at referred rates.

Lost, stolen or destroyed referrals

If a referral has been made but the letter or note of referral has been lost, stolen or destroyed, benefits will be payable at the referred rate if the account, receipt or the assignment form shows the name of the referring practitioner, the practice address or provider number of the referring practitioner (if either of these are known to the consultant physician or specialist) and the words 'Lost referral'.  This provision only applies to the initial attendance.  For subsequent attendances to attract Medicare benefits at the referred rate, a duplicate or replacement letter of referral must be obtained by the specialist or the consultant physician.

Emergency situations

Medicare benefits are payable even though there is no written referral in an emergency situation (as defined in the Health Insurance Regulations 2018). The specialist or the consultant physician should be of the opinion that the service must be rendered as quickly as possible and endorses the account, receipt or assignment form as an "Emergency referral".

A referral must be obtained from a medical practitioner or, in the case of a specialist ophthalmologist, a medical practitioner or an optometrist if attendances subsequent to the emergency attendance are to attract Medicare benefits at the referred rate.


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