Don’t neglect your health: GPs

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has launched a nationwide campaign to stop people neglecting their health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign, Expert Advice Matters, will run for 30 days with advertisements on TV and social media, showing people why now, more than ever, they need to take care of their health and see their GP for any health issues. 

A website, www.expertadvicematters.com.au, has also been set up with straightforward, practical advice for patients on how they can get a consultation with their GP on the telephone or online using videoconferencing platforms, as well as face-to-face. 

After a successful collaborative consultation between the RACGP and the federal government, the expansion of Medicare-subsidised telephone and online consultations for all Australians was announced on 5 April to combat COVID-19 and make it easier for people to see their GP about regular health concerns.

The RACGP campaign comes after widespread reports that patients are avoiding important medical consultations and tests because they fear COVID-19 and either don’t know about or feel uncomfortable with telephone or online consultations.

RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon said in these difficult times people still needed to take care of their health and wellbeing.

“It’s very concerning that some people have potentially been neglecting their health during this pandemic. The last thing we want is a tsunami of serious health issues and worsening chronic conditions coming after this virus, simply because people have stopped taking care of themselves or consulting their GP,” Dr Nespolon said.

“The reason why we are running our campaign, Expert Advice Matters, is to encourage people to keep taking care of their health. We also want to remind everyone that general practice remains open and expert medical advice matters most.

“This pandemic has spawned countless pseudo-scientific cures and treatments and myths which at best do nothing and at worse are dangerous to people’s health – such as a $15,000 ‘BioCharger’ lamp Pete Evans, a celebrity chef, was selling as a COVID-19 ‘treatment’. Now more than ever, people need expert medical advice.”

Dr Nespolon said the RACGP advocated strongly for subsidised telephone consultations because it was a technology that everyone has and would improve patient access to essential primary health care. 

“General practice is the first port of call for people when it comes to their health and GPs play a unique role in treating patients with chronic conditions, in addition to treating a range of other conditions and providing preventative medical advice,” Dr Nespolon said.

“It’s important that this doesn’t change and that people realise it’s never been easier to access your GP – online, by phone, or in person.

“While a telephone consultation is perfectly fine for the majority of cases, some patients will still need to see their GP in person, such as for their influenza vaccine, pathology or treatment requiring a physical examination. 

“We want to assure all Australians that visiting the GP at this time remains safe. Practices have infection control processes in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as personal protective equipment and sanitisation regimes. Respiratory clinics have also been set up across the country, which are separate from your local GP clinic, though often run by your local GPs, for those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.” 

Chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum (CHF), Leanne Wells, is another who stresses the importance of patients needing medical routine care not being dissuaded by a fear of COVID-19.

“We are concerned at reports by professional bodies and health services that patients are putting off seeing the doctor or going to hospitals because of worries about catching COVID-19,” Ms Wells said.

“We hear that attendances at many GP clinics, pathology centres, hospital emergency departments and other health services are down significantly. That should be a concern for all Australians. People should not delay having necessary checks and treatment that may be vital in preventing serious illness.

“The result of forgone treatments can be avoidable disease and disability which could leave Australia with sicker patients whose needs put further strain on health resources required to counter COVID.”

Health minister Greg Hunt added his voice to the campaign.

“If you are taking regular medication for management of a chronic condition, it is essential that you continue to take your medication,” Mr Hunt said. 

“If you require PBS medicines, you can have them delivered to your home from your community pharmacy through the ‘COVID-19 Home Medicines Service’, at no additional cost.

“If you have a regular follow-up appointment booked with your GP, please contact your medical practice to see if this can be carried out by telephone or video call. 

“The expansion of Medicare-subsidised telehealth services means all Australians – no matter where they live – can access essential primary health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Many patients who were initially uncertain about telephone or online consultations come around after trying them.

Dr Nathan Pinskier, a GP with a practice in Victoria, says he is now consulting with 50 per cent of patients on the phone or via videoconferencing. Many have chronic or complex health issues that need regular healthcare.

“When a patient calls us, we offer them an initial phone consultation and if a GP thinks they need to be seen in-person we will schedule a face-to-face appointment,” Dr Pinskier said.

“At any point during a phone consultation we can also switch to video by sending a link via SMS which starts a secure videoconference.”

Dr Pinskier said the feedback from patients on the new telephone and video consultations was overwhelmingly positive. 

“Even many of our elderly patients who may be wary of technology have found it easy to use and once they find out that we can email or deliver their prescriptions or other documents to them they find it very reassuring. There’s no hassle for the patient, they get the same quality healthcare without needing to leave their home.”

Have you been keeping up your regular medical appointments during the pandemic? Have you tried the telehealth options yet?

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