Major new campaign encourages patients to see their GP

Doug Hendrie

24/04/2020 5:28:50 PM

Look after your health – keep seeing your GP. That’s the message of a new RACGP campaign.

RACGP campaign image.
The nationwide campaign calls on Australians to look after their health during lockdown.

Australians have taken the responsibility to stay at home very seriously during the pandemic.
But many are avoiding vital medical care with their GP – even though this is permitted and encouraged.
The concerning trend has led the RACGP to launch a nationwide campaign calling on Australians to look after their health during lockdown.
Beginning Sunday 26 April, the month-long campaign will run across TV and social media, and communicate a simple message: People should still look after their health by seeing their GP.
The campaign will direct patients to a new website, Expert Advice Matters, which will provide straightforward, practical advice on how they can get a consultation with their GP by telephone or video calls, as well as face-to-face.
The campaign doubles as a call to Australians to trust authoritative medical information instead of conspiracy theories and quack cures circulating on social media.
The radical expansion of Medicare-subsidised telephone and telehealth consultations to 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.
That expansion came after successful RACGP advocacy and consultation with the Federal Government.  
The RACGP’s new campaign follows widespread reports that patients are avoiding important medical consultations and tests due to concern over the coronavirus, with many patients uncertain about how to set up telephone or video call consultations – or even that the option exists. 
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said it is vitally important that people still took care of their health and wellbeing during these difficult times.
‘It’s very concerning that some people have potentially been neglecting their health during this pandemic,’ he said.
‘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 we are running our campaign Expert Advice Matters is to encourage people to keep taking care of their health.’
Dr Nespolon said the campaign is designed to reassure patients that general practice remains open – and that seeking expert medical advice matters.
‘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”,’ he said.
‘Now more than ever people need expert medical advice.’
The RACGP advocated strongly for subsidised telephone consultations because the phone is a technology that everyone has. That means better patient access to essential primary healthcare, Dr Nespolon said.
‘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 preventive medical advice for the whole person,’ he said.
‘It’s important that people realise that it’s never been easier to access your GP – online, by phone, or in person.’
For most people, a telephone or video consultation will be suitable – but some patients will still need to see their GP in person for the flu vaccine, pathology tests or physical examination.
Dr Nespolon has moved to reassure the community that visiting their GP is safe, given the infection control processes now in place. 
‘Practices have infection control processes in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as personal protective equipment and sanitisation regimes,’ he said.
Respiratory clinics have also been set up across the country separate from local general practice clinics – but staffed by GPs – for those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt welcomed the RACGP’s campaign.
‘It’s vitally important that all Australians are putting their health, and their family’s health, first,’ Minister Hunt said.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’
Many patients who were initially uncertain about telephone or online consultations come around after trying them.
GPs at the practice of Victorian GP Dr Nathan Pinskier are now seeing half of all their patients through phone or video call. Many have chronic or complex health issues that need regular healthcare.
‘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,’ Dr Pinskier said.
‘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 is 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,’ he said.
‘There’s no hassle for the patient, they get the same quality healthcare without needing to leave their home.’
The campaign is well timed, according to GP Dr Richard Ralph, who is one of the owners of General Practice Plus in Hobart.
‘If people don’t have their chronic conditions treated, they are at higher risk of getting unwell. There is a real risk in not getting routine healthcare,’ he told newsGP.
‘Patients may be tempted to leave it until after this is over – but we have no idea how long this will go on for. We may not return to normal for months. There are so many things that just shouldn’t be put off.
‘Lots of patients think they need to delay because of COVID-19. Some think they don’t want to be a burden and shouldn’t come in because they’re not sick enough. That’s very much not the case.
‘GPs are available and we’re ready to see patients.’ 
The RACGP’s campaign 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.
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