While the coronavirus dominates conversations on health, West Australians are being urged to visit their GPs as patient numbers drop.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook has launched the #SeeYourGP campaign to encourage people to prioritise their wellbeing and reassure the safety and availability of medical care.
After surveying general practices, the WA Primary Health Alliance has noted visitor declines of up to thirty percent.
The state government says ignoring health issues today could not only exacerbate an individual’s illness but also put the healthcare system under further pressure in the future.
Health Consumers’ Council executive director Pip Brennan says the fall in numbers could mean that people with chronic conditions may not be receiving necessary care or people are not attending routine screenings.
“GPs provide primary care which means they can keep people well at home and in their community,” she says.
“If signs are missed – accelerating blood sugars or undetected cancers – people can end up much sicker than they would be if they had been to their GP and had their issue detected earlier.
“This could lead to unwanted hospital visits, or cancers more advanced and harder to treat, for example.”
Since March 30, telehealth consultation services have been expanded to provide patients with treatment via phone and videoconferencing.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Harry Nespolon says doctors are working tirelessly to adapt the way they deliver services.
“By adopting telehealth and telephone consultations, in addition to face-to-face consultations, they can take care of their patients and limit the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities,” he says.
“They are offering this service so please take advantage of it.”
Stirling GP Dr Julie Manasseh says in her practice the fear of coronavirus has affected not only patients but some GPs.
“It varies from one doctor to another but in my practice there are five doctors who are very fearful of COVID and they are very paranoid about catching it from patients,” she says.
“They have actually formed a pact amongst themselves to try and keep patients out of the practice as much as possible.
“Their strategy is they want to do teleconsults just over the phone of everyone if possible.”
WA Primary Health Alliance general manager of strategy and engagement Chris Kane says not all health issues can be addressed via telehealth and face-to-face visits may be necessary for some patients.
“GPs have taken additional steps to ensure a visit to the GP is safe for patients, doctors and practice staff,” she said.