Impact of the pandemic on diabetes care

Monday, 7 June 2021

New Australian research has opened a window on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted diabetes care for people living with type 2.

The most worrying finding, in the research from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute was a reduction in people accessing routine medical care.

Of the nearly 500 people with type 2 diabetes who took part in the survey, two in five reported cancelling necessary medical appointments and not making new ones.

What the research uncovered

The findings relating to healthcare engagement showed:

  • 43% who had an existing appointment with a community-based practitioner cancelled (e.g. general practitioner or allied health professional).
  • 61% who had an existing day unit/hospital appointment cancelled.
  • 39% who perceived a need for a new healthcare appointment avoided making that appointment.
  • 32% who perceived a need to attend a hospital emergency department avoided doing so.

About the researchers

Head of the Institute’s diabetes complications research program, Professor Jonathan Shaw is also an endocrinologist. He and his team, including researcher Dr Julian Sacre, were in a unique position to evaluate the effect of the pandemic.

They had already been tracking a group of almost 500 people with type 2 diabetes for over a year as part of the PREDICT study, which aims to understand the progress of type 2 diabetes and its complications.

“We were very lucky in Australia to avoid the high infection rates seen in other parts of the world, but in Melbourne particularly, we also faced some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures. Our team wanted to understand how this new-normal impacted on the health and wellbeing of people with diabetes,” Professor Shaw says.

Ongoing support is essential

He says the findings show ongoing support is essential to mitigate the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on adults with type 2 diabetes.

“The data is also borne out by what we are seeing in our diabetes clinics every time we go into lockdown,” Professor Shaw says.

“As soon a lockdown is announced, the phone starts ringing with people cancelling appointments. It’s concerning because there is the potential to miss important opportunities to treat emerging problems and pre-empt serious complications of diabetes.”

“In diabetes care it’s essential we have access to accurate and up-to-date information to help support our patients in managing their health, particularly at a time of added stress vulnerability,” Professor Shaw says.

“Healthcare services will need to continue to adapt to maximise engagement with patients and ensure adequate monitoring of risk factors.”

Not all doom and gloom

Health, wellbeing and behavioural data were also assessed, and Dr Sacre says the results aren’t all doom and gloom.

“Although many people reported negative impacts of the pandemic on their quality of life, overall anxiety and depression levels stayed the same as pre-pandemic levels, and diabetes distress actually reduced,” he says.

“Many people in the study were of retirement age, so may not have had the stresses of home schooling or job insecurity that others experienced. Nevertheless, it was very reassuring to see how many people coped well.”

“Importantly this data was collected during the first lockdown, so we don’t know if an extended or repeated period of restrictions may have had a greater effect.”

 

The findings of this research were published in the journal Diabetic Medicine.

Join our community of over 45,000 people living with diabetes