Nuclear Medicine and Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

About access to nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography (PET) and nuclear medicine services in Australia.

Page last updated: 03 March 2021


From time to time the Department publishes news updates relating to access to radiopharmaceuticals and the availability of nuclear medicine imaging services. Advice about access to temporary nuclear medicine imaging items will also be published in this section.

Suspension of substitute Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for nuclear medicine fact sheet (Word 79 KB)

Suspension of substitute Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for nuclear medicine fact sheet (PDF 179 KB)

Nuclear Medicine Imaging

Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty that involves the administration of a small amount of a radioactive medication (radioactive pharmaceutical, or radiopharmaceutical) into the patient. This makes the patient weakly radioactive for a short time and the images are made from the ionising radiation given off (emitted) from the patient. The radioactive medication is most commonly injected into the blood stream via a vein, but it may be also be administered by other methods.

While nuclear medicine is primarily used for imaging purposes, it can also be used to treat some diseases and conditions. When nuclear medicine is used for treatment purposes, the dose of the radiopharmaceuticals is usually higher, and is usually administered directly to the organ being treated.

Common nuclear medicine applications include the diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism (Grave's Disease), cardiac stress tests to analyse heart function, bone scans for orthopaedic injuries, lung scans for blood clots, and liver and gall bladder procedures to diagnose abnormal function or blockages and also cancer treatment.

In order for a nuclear medicine imaging service to be eligible under Medicare, the service must be performed by a specialist or consultant physician, or by a suitably qualified person acting on behalf of a specialist. The final report of the service must also be compiled by the specialist who performed the preliminary examination of the patient and administered the dosage of radiopharmaceuticals.

For further information please email the Diagnostic Imaging team.

Temporary Nuclear Medicine Items

On 1 December 2020, 11 temporary substitute nuclear medicine imaging items were announced for use until 28 February 2021 during a disruption in the national supply of the radiopharmaceutical technetium.

The temporary items helped to ensure patients had continued access to necessary nuclear medicine imaging scans while technetium supplies were limited. The new items allowed providers of nuclear medicine services to perform certain services using different types of equipment and alternative radiopharmaceuticals so that the available supplies of technetium could be re-directed to practices, particularly in regional and rural areas, which only provide services using technetium.

The temporary items were able to be requested by any medical practitioner, including a general practitioner.

These items ceased effect on 28 February 2021, following advice from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation that the supply of technetium had returned to normal levels and stabilised.

Should there be further national shortages in the supply of technetium, these items may again become available to patients and providers.

For more information about the cessation of the temporary nuclear medicine items, see the Suspension of substitute Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for nuclear medicine

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a nuclear medicine technology that uses short-lived radioisotopes to enable the non-invasive imaging of metabolic functions within the body. While computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) primarily provide information about anatomical structure, PET can image and quantify biochemical and/or physiological function. This is important because functional changes caused by disease, such as cancer, are often detectable before any structural abnormalities become evident.

A list of PET unit locations is available on the Department's website.

Claiming Medicare Benefits

The requirements for claiming Medicare benefits for PET scans are listed in the Diagnostic Imaging Services Table. See Category 5 of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). A PET service must be performed by an appropriately qualified person, in a comprehensive facility that can provide a full range of diagnostic imaging services and cancer treatment services and provided using equipment that meets certain requirements, and only following a referral from a recognised physician or specialist consultant.

Providers of PET services must complete a PET Provider Statutory Declaration prior to being eligible to claim Medicare rebates. Statutory declarations can be obtained directly from the Department of Human Services.

Additionally, as PET and nuclear medicine items are listed in the Diagnostic Imaging Services Table, all sites must be accredited under the government’s Diagnostic Imaging Accreditation Scheme prior to performing Medicare eligible PET scans.