Don’t ignore a medical emergency

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

For people with chronic health conditions, like diabetes, it’s essential that they continue to look after their health. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic its important to seek routine medical care and take action in an emergency.

Delaying or avoiding necessary medical care could lead to serious health complications and in some cases even death.

As we continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that fewer patients are presenting to emergency departments and primary care services in Australia and around the world.

This might be because people are fearful of catching coronavirus, or it may be because they don’t want to put pressure on the health system at this time. It could even be a bit of both.

Anxiety and fear

Delaying or avoiding medical care despite health problems is not a new concept. People often downplay the severity of their symptoms believing they will resolve on their own, or that they can manage themselves at home.

This reasoning is now compounded by the fear of becoming infected with COVID-19. This is justified, as people with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of severe symptoms and getting sicker than the overall population if they catch coronavirus.

Concerns about overburdening the health-care system, seem to be a common reason for delaying seeking care.  While it’s too early to have definitive statistics, Australian estimates suggest attendance at hospitals and general practices could be down by as much as 50%.

Why it’s important to seek care

People with chronic health conditions may need to seek medical care for a range of reasons. It could be for routine care and appointments, or for unscheduled emergency care if their condition flares up.

Importantly, if people delay seeking care for their condition, it could lead to an increase serious health complications and preventable deaths.

For example, people with diabetes may not follow up on issues to do with their feet which could lead to severe complications, or ulcerations that could lead to amputation.

It’s also possible that if a large number of people avoid seeking treatment now, hospitals will find themselves overwhelmed when the pandemic is over.

You can go out for medical care

While the global public health messaging urges people to stay home to save lives, it’s important to understand one of the key exemptions is medical treatment. And this doesn’t apply only to people with COVID-19 symptoms.

Regular GP or specialist appointments

People with chronic conditions may already be receiving advice from their health professionals about how regular appointments will be conducted.

To minimise risks to staff and patients, many health services are offering telehealth appointments (via phone or video conference). It’s best to contact your GP or specialist by phone prior to your appointment to see whether this service is available and appropriate.

There will be times when a telephone or video-conference is not suitable, such as when your doctor needs to perform a physical examination, administer therapies including medications, or you need tests such as blood tests or x-rays.

If you do need to attend a clinic or hospital in person, you should be assured they’re taking additional precautions to prevent the spread of infection during this time.

If symptoms flare up or in an emergency

If your symptoms get worse, you should still contact your GP or specialist if this is your normal course. This is important even if you don’t think your symptoms are urgent.

And it remains critical that in life-threatening circumstances you seek medical attention immediately by calling triple zero (000).

Practical tips for staying well

  • keep looking after your health and stay connected with your doctor
  • get your annual flu vaccination
  • practise physical distancing and good hand hygiene
  • stay active and eat a healthy diet.
  • don’t ignore a medical emergency.

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