The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today launched a nationwide campaign to stop people from 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. The advert can be viewed online at: https://youtu.be/xdv-dYMpwmQ
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 see their GP for their regular health concerns.
The RACGP’s 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.
“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 for the whole person.
“It’s important that this doesn’t change and that people realise that 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.”
The Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, welcomed the announcement and said the Australian Government’s number one priority was “the health and well-being of all Australians.”
“It’s vitally important that all Australians are putting their health, and their family’s health, first,” Minister Hunt said.
“If you are taking regular medication for management of a chronic condition, it is essential that you continue to take your medication.
“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 who has a practice in Victoria that is now consulting with 50% of patients on the phone or via videoconferencing, many of whom have chronic or complex health issues that need regular health care.
“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. 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 health care without needing to leave their home.”
The RACGP’s campaign also includes resources and advice for GPs to help practices make the transition to telephone and online consultations in a way that works for them and their patients. Available online at: www.racgp.org.au/expertadvicematters