This article was first published in Star Weekly Maribyrnong & Hobsons Bay on 27 April 2022.
Written by Christopher Carter, CEO, NWMPHN
The coronavirus pandemic caused a lot of people to fall ill – but not all of them because they caught COVID-19.
Behind the stark statistics of daily case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths there is another story. We call it the pandemic’s long shadow.
When the first wave hit, and every day since, thousands of people across our region decided to put off seeking help for other health matters. Doctors call this sort of thing “deferred care” – the decision to delay seeing a GP about something new, or to opt out of a blood test or an x-ray, or to avoid a prescription renewal.
No one knows precisely how many people have done this, but experience overseas suggests its a big number – and this could cause trouble down the track, for patients and the health system.
There is a single, important message that all GPs, nurses and specialists agree on: don’t put care off any longer. Talk to your doctor, have a chat, act now.
As far back as late 2020, US researchers started calling the risk in deferred care the “hidden harm” of COVID-19. The situation has only worsened since then, but by how much is difficult to know.
Doctors in general practice and hospitals have seen a drop in presentations for a wide range of non-coronavirus matters. For some conditions, such as flu and some other infectious diseases, the dip was probably because movement restrictions, masking and lockdowns meant that fewer people were getting poorly.
It is very unlikely, however, that some other things, such as heart disease, diabetes, digestive disorders, sexually transmitted diseases and cancers have become less common. Far more likely, people have been delaying routine screening, tests, cancelling appointments, or simply trying to tough it out.
But why? For many, clinics and hospitals are seen has high-risk environments for catching COVID-19. Others have delayed things because they were isolating, caring for sick family members, couldn’t afford particular tests or medications – or because the whole damn pandemic experience left them feeling anxious and depressed.
If you’ve had any of these experiences, please know that you’re far from alone!
One of the big problems with putting off treatment for what seem like minor matters, however, is that they can suddenly escalate into major problems requiring a stay in hospital.
For you, and for the hospitals, it’s a much better idea now to go make an appointment at your general practice, or have those tests you’ve been putting off. If you need an updated plan to manage your asthma, bronchitis or COPD, a GP respiratory clinic can help.
Better a doctor’s office, or a telehealth screen, after all, than an emergency department. Do it now, for everybody’s sake – but especially yours.