Pandemic results in nearly 100,000 fewer GP visits, MBS data reveals

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

25/05/2020 3:07:32 PM

Concerns over coronavirus and burdening the health system have seen people put off consultations and tests for management of chronic illnesses.

Using MBS online
Data from the MBS, analysed by the Heart Foundation, reveals a 10% drop in GP visits for the management of chronic disease in March 2020.

‘These are potentially life-saving check-ups, tests and monitoring that people are missing out on.’
That is Professor Garry Jennings, cardiologist and Chief Medical Adviser of the Heart Foundation.
He is referring to the tens of thousands of Australians with existing chronic diseases who are missing vital consultations with their GP as a result of the pandemic. Not to mention other vital diagnoses that may be missed and delayed.
Data from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), analysed by the Heart Foundation, reveals a 10% drop in GP visits for the management of chronic disease in March 2020, equating to 96,000 fewer visits compared to the same time last year.
The data also showed an 18% drop in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks compared to the same time last year.
GPs claimed more than one million MBS items via telehealth in March 2020.
While nearly one in two Australians lives with one or more chronic conditions, Professor Jennings noted that only a small portion of telehealth claims were for the management of chronic disease.
‘It’s reassuring to see that telehealth has been taken up by a higher proportion of older Australians, aligning well with the group of people we know are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions and be at higher risk of COVID-19 complications,’ he said.
‘But we want to see people at risk of or living with heart disease continue to see their GP about managing their condition.’
As a flow-on effect, pathology testing is also down.
Data from NSW reveals a 28% drop in cholesterol tests processed in March compared to February 2020.
‘There are rarely any signs or symptoms attributed to changes in cholesterol levels, yet left undetected and untreated these changes can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke,’ Professor Jennings noted.
He also warned of diabetes slipping out of control.
‘These people have, in many cases, undergone fairly significant lifestyle changes. They may be more sedentary because they’re at home, they may be – as the media is so commonly reminding us – eating differently, eating any more, drinking more,’ Professor Jennings said.
‘These changes really could manifest fairly early in terms of people’s health.’
As social distancing restrictions ease, the Heard Foundation has received double the number of calls to its helpline compared to the same time last year, highlighting that some people have greater fears regarding COVID-19 complications as opposed to heart disease.
‘They’ve been living with their chronic condition for years and it’s probably not so scary anymore Professor Jennings told newsGP. ‘But every hour of every day we’re reminded about how scary COVID-19 is – and rightly so. A lot of the things people need to do to avoid it [the virus] will help their chronic conditions, too.
‘But if you do the numbers – and I don’t want to underestimate what’s been the tragedy of COVID-19 already – we’re around 100 deaths so far compared to 20,000 each year for heart disease, a similar number for cancer, a large number of debilitating strokes.
‘That’s where the health system has got to be in for the long haul.’
The main consequences, Professor Jennings warns, will be in the future.
‘If you’ve missed out an appointment, particularly if you’ve missed out on a prescription or on the important monitoring tests, then it may not come back to you in the next few days or weeks, but in the longer term given that almost 100,000 visits have been missed out that’s going to come through as big numbers,’ he said.
Acknowledging such concerns, the RACGP launched Expert Advice Matters in April, a nationwide campaign encouraging people to look after their health and see their GP.
‘It’s never been easier to access your GP,’ RACGP President Harry Nespolon said.
‘For most people, a phone or video consultation with their GP will be suitable, but for those patients who still need to see their GP in person, we’re reminding them that it is safe to do so given the infection control processes in place.’
To further reinforce the importance of people maintaining their regular medical care for chronic health conditions, 22 health organisations have joined to form the Continuity of Care Collaboration (CCC).
‘What we don’t want to see is a stalling of the progress we have made in Australia in reducing preventable deaths caused by chronic diseases,’ Professor Jennings said.
‘If we have to live with COVID-19 for some time, if it takes a while for a vaccine to be developed or for the disease to run its course, it’s going to become more and more important to do all the things the health system does well normally and make sure that we don’t lose anything because of this other threat.’
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Dr Oliver Ralph Frank   26/05/2020 7:19:24 AM

100,000 fewer visits among Australia's 35,000 GPs is three fewer visits per GP.

Dr Ian Mark Light   26/05/2020 8:18:23 AM

In the future this ought improve .
Doctors can ring patients up for review using their knowledge of their patients and data bases .
They can ring their patients to discuss fears about having clinic consultations .
But general practices will have to have good PPE supply and the Spaces where consultations are held will need to be protected from viral spread by continued social distancing triage before entering the clinics and excellent ventilation including fresh air flow and cleaning
Also safe Home Visit and Aged Care visiting protocols need standards derived to a degree in from the ambulance protocols .