Fears CALD patients avoiding healthcare during pandemic

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

3/08/2020 1:34:48 PM

As coronavirus restrictions are tightened, GPs are being encouraged to reach out to their culturally and linguistically diverse patients.

Woman on the phone
Concerns for CALD patients have heightened, particularly in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire in Victoria, as communities face tightened restrictions due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Language. Negative past experiences. Location. Transport.
These are just some of the barriers culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians face when it comes to accessing healthcare. And they are barriers that Dr Kate Walker worries are being further exacerbated amid fears of contracting coronavirus.
‘We are very concerned for CALD patients who may be avoiding important medical appointments due to fear of COVID-19,’ Dr Walker, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Refugee Health network, said.
‘GPs have told us  their CALD patients are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
‘We are hearing of vulnerable patients who’ve lost work and are under a great deal of stress. GPs are seeing increased mental health symptoms, isolation and loneliness.
‘There are higher rates of chronic disease and other comorbidities among some CALD communities. The last thing we want to see is an increase in health issues due to patients delaying care.’
Concerns for CALD patients have recently heightened, particularly in metropolitan Melbourne, as communities face tightened restrictions due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Dr Walker said the impact of healthcare barriers on health literacy and outcomes is clear in data from overseas.
‘We’ve seen in the United Kingdom and the United States, African American and CALD communities have high rates of COVID-19 and higher rates of death,’ she said.
‘The current outbreaks in Melbourne have [also] been in areas with high numbers of CALD communities.’
Dr Walker believes messaging is crucial in order to ensure patients understand the importance of accessing care through their GP during the pandemic, and also around testing for COVID-19.
‘It is essential that CALD communities across Australia are able to access COVID-19 health advice in their language, including information about testing, how to self-isolate, quarantine and contact tracing,’ she said. 
‘Asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants face greater barriers to care and may be more mistrustful of government and reluctant to get tested. 
‘We are concerned there is a lack of messaging about testing options for those without a Medicare card.’
Mary Patetsos, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), agrees that more needs to be done to address such barriers, and GPs are well placed to have an impact.
‘We need equity in services to ensure those communities are not disadvantaged,’ Ms Patetsos said.
‘GPs have a role to play here – we encourage GPs to be proactive and reach out to their CALD patients who may need reassurance that it is safe and important to keep their regular health checks.’
Leanne Wells, Chief Executive of Consumer Health Forum of Australia (CHF), believes there needs to be a greater focus on reaching CALD people to ensure they do not fall through the cracks of Australia’s health system.
‘We know that poor health literacy – the ability to understand and use the health system – means greater risk of ill health and continuing untreated chronic illness,’ she said.
‘Governments must give greater priority to ensuring CALD groups are able to access the information and care they require.
‘For CALD communities this comes with an obligation to work in partnership with communities to decide how to best communicate health messages that people respond to.’
GPs can access free interpreter services for telephone consultations via the Australian Government’s Translation and Interpreting Service (TIS).
A ‘Guide for clinicians working with interpreters in healthcare settings’ is available on the RACGP website.
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