Keep up your health care during COVID-19

As restrictions ease, the sun comes out and we enter a new ‘normal’, we all have lists of things to do and people to see. While it’s important to go back to doing the things you love at your own pace, there’s one major exception: do not delay medical or health care.

With changing lock-down rules over the last 20 months it was understandable that making and keeping regular checks was difficult, but experts are encouraging us to let down our guard and keep up regular visits with our GPs and other health professionals.

The facts

As Australia reaches some of the highest levels of vaccination in the world and health care providers operate under COVID safe plans, our health system is perfectly positioned to keep you safe while you visit for check-ups.

When you visit a health care provider they may:

  • Ask you if you’re currently experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms
  • Take your temperature
  • Ask you to sanitise your hands
  • Ask you to wear your mask
  • Enquire about your vaccination status

All health care providers have a duty of care and must comply with public health orders.

The statistics

Around the country in 2020 there were major declines in patients seeking diagnosis for non-COVID related health issues:

  • 40 per cent drop in non-COVID pathology testing
  • 50 per cent less new cancer patients diagnosed
  • 30 per cent reduction in cardiac presentation at emergency

These health statistics do not mean people are not getting sick, they represent a decline in Australians seeking appropriate health care.  

So, what is behind this shift in numbers?

There are a number of reasons why people may not had their regular medical check-ups or may even be ignoring the warning signs of disease or illness. Reasons for this could include:

  • The desire to maintain social isolation
  • Fear of visiting health services and risking infection
  • Increased anxiety when interacting with others
  • Limited capacity to use telehealth services

People may also worry they will be contributing to an overstretched health system and want to put the needs of others first. The issue with this is by delaying diagnosis or treatment, there is an increase 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 comparatively 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.
  • Do get your COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots when available if eligible.

Related articles