One-third of adults in Victoria avoid routine, urgent or emergency medical care because of COVID-19 concerns

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A recent report reveals one-third of Victorian adults have delayed or avoided medical care, while 10 percent have avoided urgent or emergency care due to COVID-19 concerns.

The findings, based on an online survey administered to a statewide sample of Victorian- based residents in September 2020, also identified elevated levels of care avoidance among people with disabilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and unpaid caregivers.

The research collaboration represents the eighth report produced through The COVID-19 Outbreak Public Evaluation (COPE) Initiative and involved co-first authors Mark Czeisler, a PhD student from Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health and Dr Jess Kennedy from Austin Health Hospital, together with Associate Professor Mark Howard from Austin Health and Professor Shantha Rajaratnam also from the Turner Institute.

The findings have been published in the journal Respirology.

A previous report based on data from June 2020 found that 40 per cent of US adults reported they had delayed or avoided medical care due to COVID-19 concerns. Given the potential short- and long-term adverse health consequences of avoiding medical care, the research group was interested in determining the extent to which this behaviour was occuring in Victoria, which has experienced comparatively fewer SARS-CoV-2 infection rates compared to the U.S.

Particularly relevant in Victoria following recent SARS-CoV-2 infections and associated lockdown, the results highlight the researchers’ shared concerns that sustained routine care avoidance may lead to impaired management of chronic conditions and reduced opportunities for receipt of routine vaccinations or early detection of new conditions.

“Avoidance of urgent or emergency medical care may be harmful, and possibly even life-threatening. People experiencing a medical emergency should seek and be provided care without delay,” said Mr Czeisler.

“We hope that these findings will motivate public health and medical institutions to enhance health promotion messaging efforts, and inform tailored communications for disproportionately affected groups: people with disabilities, people with underlying health conditions, and unpaid caregivers.”

Associate Professor Mark Howard from Austin Health said waiting to receive care or not seeking care at all can have significant short term and long term health impacts for patients.

“It’s still safe to come to hospital for treatment so the message in all of this is very simple – please seek the care you need as soon as you need it,” Associate Professor Howard said.

“We know of cases where people have delayed coming to hospitals with conditions as serious as chest pain which have resulted in far worse health outcomes.

“But the effect of patients missing appointments for chronic conditions also has long term implications, ultimately leading to these conditions worsening and requiring additional support and care,” he said.

Read the full paper in Respirology titled: Delay or Avoidance of Routine, Urgent and Emergency Medical Care due to Concerns About COVID-19 Prevalence: Victoria, Australia.DOI: 10.1111/resp.14094