Fear of catching COVID-19

John Deeks: Welcome back to Mind Your Own Retirement. Me, John Deeks, flying solo today. Be warned. Leanne Wells is the chief executive officer of Consumer Health Forum of Australia. She’s a health advocate, of course, and a service executive with over 30 years of experience.

John Deeks: Now, Leanne, you really must be in great demand at the moment because as CEO of Consumer Health Forum, there is so much going on, and we’re hearing a lot of talk about telehealth. Tell me about it.

Leanne Wells: Yeah, well, telehealth, it feels like it’s a little bit flavour of the month at the moment. And it’s actually not new, it’s just that it’s been really brought to the fore, I suppose, by the need for many of us to want to continue to access our usual healthcare in safe ways. So, in ways that don’t involve, you know, direct face-to-face contact with our doctor or our psychologist or a physio. So, it’s really basically about using the phone or apps like FaceTime, video conferencing, as a supplement to face-to-face consultations that you would normally have with your provider. It’s being used a lot in rural areas already for obvious reasons, you know, distance and things like that. Used a lot in mental health, but basically, we’ve seen it really, really accelerate as a way of making it easy for people at the current time – where we’re all being told to socially distance – to access our usual care.

John Deeks: There was a lot of talk, and one of the promises of the joy of the NBN coming in was the fact that we’d be able to do more of this. Certainly, those folks in rural areas in a much better way and so much more. Do you have any anecdotal evidence of people not going to the doctor as much or for reasons because of the COVID-19?

Leanne Wells: Look, we do. There’s no doubt, the social distancing we’re all being asked to do … anxiety about when it’s going to end and just particularly for older people feeling a bit fearful about being out in the community and risking contracting the virus. That does cause great anxiety. So, you know, we’ve certainly heard from some GPs that … there is a significant downturn in usual patient numbers. For people with complex and chronic conditions, that’s the last thing we want to see happen. You know, they’re only going to get sicker, they’re going to need potentially more extensive care, and worse they might end up in hospital, putting pressure on hospitals at a time when we want our hospitals to be COVID ready. That is a concern. And I think we really do need to get the message out that doctors do have new ways of providing care now.

John Deeks: And I guess we’re talking about telehealth being one of those things.

Leanne Wells: If this virus has done anything, it’s been to disrupt many things in our community, hasn’t it? From how we live our lives, and then the policy implications they’ve had economically, health, and social policy wise. But I think, you know, we also need to think about telehealth. Yes, it’s an innovation, but there is a downside to it as well. I think particularly for people with complex and chronic conditions, there are some things that are better achieved in a normal face-to-face consultation from a diagnostic point of view. So, I think we need to be seeing the value of telehealth in that it’s a supplement … particularly on the other side of COVID, rather than a replacement for your consultations that you would have with a GP and other providers if you’ve got complex and chronic conditions. Because we all know … that good primary health care is as much about your relationship and the continuity of care you have with your doctor than anything, because they know you.

John Deeks: Consumer Health Forum has been lobbying the health funds, for what specifically?

Leanne Wells: Well, this is a really moving space John. You’d remember that in order to get our hospitals ready for the anticipated surge of COVID patients that all elective surgery was cancelled or postponed – and IVF and all of those things. Dental care, you know, dentists are basically closed and, you know, private health insurance covers that as well  So, what that meant was that the insurers, the private health insurers, were going to be paying out considerably less in benefits because no-one was getting the services that insurance pays for. So, we were really saying, look, along with CHOICE and others, that the private health insurance industry really shouldn’t be profiting from COVID – if they’re paying out less in benefits, then policy holders should get those benefits. So, the funds, you know, really stepped up to the plate on that and they’re talking about returning the benefits to patients in the form of rebates or discounts or something like that. So, we’ve been lobbying for that. And the other thing we’ve been lobbying for is the level of consistency across the private health insurance industry to be better and much easier for the community as a whole to navigate. If all the funds said, ‘okay, we’re just going to give you a rebate’, rather than people having to ask the question of their funds when they’re already stressed and anxious about what they’re going to do about it.

John Deeks: Leanne Wells, CEO of Consumer Health Forum. Thank you so much for giving up your time. If people want to go to your website or find you on social media, where should they go?

Leanne Wells: They should go to www.chf.org.au and our Twitter handle is @CHFAustralia.

John Deeks: And we’ll put those up on our YourLifeChoices’ Mind Your Own Retirement website as well to make sure those links are available to our members if they can’t recall it. Leanne, thank you so much for your time. Happy Mother’s Day and be well.

Leanne Wells: Thank you very much, John.



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