The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging patients to take care of their health and wellbeing and consult with their GP for any health concerns.
It comes following a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria and New South Wales in recent weeks that some GPs fear may lead to patients avoiding or delaying care.
A June 2020 survey of more than 700 people found 32% of respondents had delayed or avoided a visit to a GP in the three months prior, and 21% had missed or put off a pathology test.
During the second wave last year in Victoria hospitals reporteda substantial decline in the number of people seeking treatment for heart attacks and strokes, as well as essential cancer screening.
RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz said it was vital that patients consulted with their GP for any health concerns.
“Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic did result in some patients delaying or avoiding care and that is hugely concerning,” she said.
“When I look at this recent spike in COVID-19 cases I see the potential for patients to put off a consultation with their GP.
“If patients do not seek the care and treatment they need we may see a wave of health concerns emerge in coming months because patients have avoided seeing their GP. The last thing we want is patients worsening health conditions that could have been treated more effectively earlier.
“So, my message to all patients is a straightforward – please consult with your GP for any health concerns you have, whether for an existing condition or new symptoms, be that physical health or mental health. Do not delay, we are here to help.”
Dr Munoz said that telephone and telehealth services were available.
“It is important to remember that although some health concerns do require an in-person consultation, many others do not,” Dr Munoz said.
“In 2020, the Federal Government heeded the RACGP’s calls to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth to all patients and late last year the Federal Health Minister indicated that telehealth would become a permanent fixture of Medicare.
“That is very welcome news and patients should take full advantage of these services and not put off that consultation one minute longer.
“It is important to keep in mind too that visiting a GP is safe so if you would prefer an in-person consultation that is fine. Practices in all communities have rigorous infection control processes in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as sanitisation regimes.”
The RACGP Victoria Chair said that patients should also get themselves tested right away if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
“It is welcome news that so many people in Victoria and New South Wales are taking the time to line up and get themselves tested for COVID-19,” she said.
“We can only stay on top of this virus if people who have symptoms get tested right away so to everyone who has done so – well done.
“I encourage anyone with symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, fever or chills or loss of smell or taste to get tested for COVID-19. Doing so could be the difference in stamping out potential cases and saving lives.”
In April last year, the RACGP launched a nationwide campaign to stop people from neglecting their health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The campaign Expert Advice Matters advised Australians 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, was set up featuring 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.