A RECORD number of patients have been bulk-billed by New England GP's.
Medicare data reveals on average nearly eight out of every 10 visits to the doctor were provided with no out-of-pocket cost.
In normal circumstances, My GP Tamworth does not bulk-bill - but the outbreak of COVID-19 brought with it skyrocketing telehealth consultations which doctor Casey Sullivan said almost doubled patient numbers.
"The community-minded GP's in the region have increased bulk-billing telehealth services during the pandemic," she said.
"This however meant your usual GP would have doubled the number of patients they treated each day from approximately 30 to 60 to cover the cost of running the practice.
"We certainly saw burnout and fatigue among our medical colleagues."
The bulk-billing rate in the New England was 78.4 per cent for the 2019 to 2020 period, with the total number of benefits across the country reaching $24.7 billion.
From March 13 to June this year, there were 16 million COVID-19 phone consultations and 1.4 million video consultations.
Dr Sullivan said she decided to offer telehealth because she was concerned patients had lost their jobs during the pandemic and would not be able to seek medical treatment.
"It also reduced the number of sick patients having to leave home to be treated, which greatly assisted in reducing the spread of COVID and influenza this year.
"We would like to see the government approve mixed telehealth and physical appointments so we can continue treating patients from home and reducing the spread of illness."
As the patients return to physical appointments Dr Sullivan expects consultations to drop from up to 60 per doctor, per day to five to 10.
Bulk-billing doesn't cover the costs to run a practice and GP clinics would have to close their doors within six months if they only bulk-billed patients, Dr Sullivan said.
"Unless they continue to run high numbers of patients through the door, five minute consults, no preventative healthcare," she said.
"This is bad news for both patients and doctors, doctors will experience high levels of fatigue and burnout and patients don't receive the healthcare they deserve.
"Health prevention is lost as future management and planning of chronic conditions by your GP can't be performed in five minutes ... patients will ultimately land in hospital for conditions that your regular GP could have prevented.
"Your GP can make the difference, we manage all your health conditions, mental health issues and provide intergenerational care.
"We are worth it, you are worth it."
The federal government has not made a commitment to ongoing telehealth cover, but Member for New England Barnaby Joyce said they have played a critical role in the response to COVID-19.
"These measures have allowed patients in the New England to access essential health care while minimising the risk of community transmission of the virus," he said.