Infection prevention and control guidelines

3. Personal protective equipment

Case study

      1. Case study

Last revised: 18 Aug 2023

Case study – Personal protective equipment


One of the key issues faced by general practice during the COVID-19 pandemic was the availability of personal protective equipment. Practices had to optimise the use of personal protective equipment while ensuring the safety your patients and staff.

Telehealth consultations (using phone or video) do not require the use of personal protective equipment. Telehealth can be carried out onsite from the practice or by GPs working from home with the appropriate technology set up.

A face mask should not be worn during a telehealth consultation as this will restrict communication. Therefore, telehealth consultations should be conducted in a location that enables you to physical distance from others in the practice and maintain the privacy of the patient.

Telehealth consultations can be used to triage patients where COVID-19 is suspected.

There will be circumstances where telehealth consultations are not ideal and, based on clinical judgement, you should make arrangements for an in-practice or in-home face-to-face consultation.

GP-led COVID-19 respiratory clinics were established in response to COVID-19, in part, to preserve the personal protective equipment of general practices. These clinics have the personal protective equipment and testing capacity to assess and treat patients with respiratory illnesses.

When conducting face-to-face consultations, it is recommended general practices cohort their patients into groups with or without respiratory symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. Cohorting patients into groups can help optimise use of personal protective equipment. For example, it enables one GP or nurse to consult patients consecutively and reduce the need to fully don and remove personal protective equipment between consultations.

Your practice should only conduct consultations with patients with respiratory symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 if it has the appropriate personal protective equipment and capacity to manage the infection control requirements. If this is not available, refer patients to a local GP-led COVID-19 respiratory clinic. Alternatively, your practice can seek advice from the local public health unit on where to refer the patient for treatment or testing.

All patients who present with respiratory symptoms should be managed according to the Department of Health and Aged Care’s Guidance on the use of personal protective equipment for health care workers in the context of COVID-19 until their COVID-19 status is confirmed.

It is recommended that all members of the practice team dealing with patients attending face-to-face consultations with respiratory symptoms use standard and droplet precaution personal protective equipment, including:

All patients suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19 should wear a correctly fitted surgical mask for the duration of their consultation (including in waiting areas), unless otherwise directed by staff, such as when conducting a test. Where compliance cannot be achieved (eg with some children, where the patient may have a cognitive impairment, or where the patient refuses), the person should be immediately isolated in a separate room away from practice team members and other patients, or be asked to exit the practice. The initial consultation can then be conducted via phone (using a practice phone if the person has been isolated in a consultation room, or mobile phone if they have exited the practice).

All face-to-face consultations with patients presenting with respiratory illness should occur in a designated area that ideally has a separate entrance and exit for patients to use. Members of the practice team should not leave the designated area where the consultations are taking place while wearing personal protective equipment.

 Never consult a patient who is not suspected of having COVID-19 after consulting patients suspected or confirmed of having COVID-19, without fully removing personal protective equipment and performing hand hygiene and environmental cleaning.

At times, in some regions in Australia, the wearing of surgical face masks is required for all practice team members as a public health directive, where physical distancing is not possible or in all patient-facing areas. Check the current advice from your state or territory health department.

Unless stipulated by your state or territory health department (as above), there is no requirement to wear personal protective equipment for these consultations, unless determined clinically necessary