An unintended health issue is looming in Australia as an indirect result of COVID-19 – some people have stopped or delayed seeking health care.
As we know, social distancing has been key in preventing the spread of infection and we’ve all adjusted our lifestyles to limit contact with others. But experts are encouraging us to let down our guard and keep up regular visits with our GPs and other health professionals.
Around the world health services have observed worryingly sharp reductions in cancer diagnosis, heart attacks, stroke and even appendicitis.
In Australia, The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, one of Victoria’s largest emergency departments, has reported a 50 per cent reduction in emergency room presentations.
Across the country we have seen a decline in pathology testing by 40 per cent, a drop by 50 per cent of newly diagnosed cancer patients and 30 per cent reduction in cardiac emergencies.
So, what is behind this shift in numbers?
There are a number of proposed explanations as to why people may not be keeping up with their regular medical check-ups and even ignoring the warning signs of disease or illness.
This could include the desire to maintain social isolation, fear of visiting health services and risking infection, increased anxiety when interacting with others or perhaps a limited capacity to use telehealth.
Additionally, people are worried they will be contributing to an overstretched health system and wanting to put the needs of others first. The issue with this is by delaying diagnosis or treatment, you are only increasing your risk of complications.
What does this mean?
While it’s important that we remain alert and take the necessary precautions in relation to COVID-19, it’s critical that we don’t ignore the signs of other potential health issues by delaying screening and treatment.
Delaying diagnosis and treatment can have long term effects. We know that health emergencies like cancer, stroke and heart attacks have much better health outcomes with early diagnosis and medical intervention. Similarly, for chronic diseases like diabetes, delaying early intervention wound care treatment for a foot ulcer by several weeks, increases the risk of amputation.
Delaying physiotherapy treatment for back pain, optometry services for eye health, psychological treatment for depression or anxiety and postponing dental care can have lasting impacts on health outcomes and quality of life. Thankfully the solution is simple, we just need to spread the word.
What you can do
Australian Medical Association President, Dr Tony Bartone, said that fear and concern over COVID-19 should not mean that people ignore their everyday health.
“If you notice a change in your own or a family member’s health, don’t put off seeking medical advice. If you are sick, see your doctor. If you need a vaccination, see your doctor. If you have a regular scheduled check-up, see your doctor. Don’t put off visiting your doctor until it is too late.”
In Australia, we have had time to boost our health system to anticipate the rising demand in services. This boost combined with low levels of infection means you can still access your local GP or emergency services with minimal disruption and minimal risk of infection.
Most medical and allied health practices have adapted protocols to ensure they can continue to operate safely with thorough sanitisation processes, enabling social distancing and limiting the number of people in the practice at one time. As well as face to face appointments, they are able to offer telehealth via phone or video appointments, which allow you to talk to your health care professional from the comfort of your home.
Contact your health care provider to see which method suits your needs best. GMHBA Eye Care, GMHBA Dental Care and GMHBA’s own Geelong Physiotherapy are all available to treat returning or new patients.
Of course if you show signs or symptoms of COVID-19, please follow the guidelines for seeking care and self-isolating.
The take home message
Don’t let your hesitation stand in the way of managing your health:
- Do seek medical or health advice if you notice a change in your health
- Do attend regular health appointments
- Do continue with treatment for existing health conditions.