COVID-19 changes health care habits

More Western Australians had their flu vaccination and got repeat prescriptions, but fewer of us had important mental, physical and pregnancy health assessments as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded last year, according to a recent report.

COVID-19 in Western Australia Bulletin 5: The impact on seeking routine care, a collaboration between WA Department of Health and WA Primary Health Alliance, analysed data from March, April and May 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 and found significant differences in the way we used our health care system.

During this time, various restrictions were put in place to limit the spread of the virus, and there was widespread uncertainty among the community over the potential course and health impacts of COVID-19.

WA Primary Health Alliance Manager Primary Care Data, Richard Varhol, said the bulletin clearly demonstrated how COVID-19 changed our habits in accessing day to day health care, despite our state’s success in controlling the virus.

“An interesting pattern to emerge was a reduction in self-reported care seeking behaviour, with a tendency to only seek care in an emergency,” Mr Varhol said.

“However, GP visits remained consistent during March and April, before falling off in May, suggesting people consulted their GP in the early stage of the pandemic for flu vaccinations and repeat prescriptions, the latter evidenced by an increase in Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data.

“The identification of any impacts on routine care seeking behaviour is vital to understanding and responding promptly to issues that could arise if significant restrictions are required to be reintroduced in the future.”

At the same time as GP attendances were falling WA Primary Health Alliance ran the See Your GP campaign to remind people of the importance of regular medical appointments and to reassure them of the availability of safe, essential health care.

The organisation also worked in partnership with Connect Groups to develop Stay Connected with Telehealth, a three-month program to raise awareness, educate and increase the use of telehealth among people diagnosed with a chronic condition.

Changes were also reflected in a reduction in Medicare items claimed, fewer mental health management plans, health assessments and medication reviews, as well as on average two fewer antenatal visits for pregnant women.

Find out more about our work in supporting the primary care sector during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.