New research reveals worsening health during the pandemic

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New research commissioned by Johnson & Johnson Medical has revealed many Australians could be putting their health at risk by delaying and even cancelling healthcare appointments out of fear of being exposed to COVID-19.

The report found one-in-five Australians are unsure when they will ever re-schedule deferred appointments for any medical procedure that is not an emergency.

It also found that close to one-quarter of Australians feel their health has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The number was highest in Victoria (30.5 per cent), which has experienced the longest lockdown measures, followed by NSW (25.7 per cent). However, despite worsening health, many are also reluctant to see a healthcare professional with almost half (49.1 per cent) delaying or cancelling healthcare appointments.

Professor Wendy Brown, program director of Surgical Services for Alfred Health said: “People who require medical care already feel incredibly vulnerable as they have to place their trust in the hands of healthcare professionals. It can feel very isolating and disempowering. The COVID pandemic has been a time of uncertainty for most of us, and that has amplified the feeling of vulnerability. For some people, this has led them to avoid seeking any medical care during this difficult time.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down, we are not out of the woods just yet. The threat of an outbreak will continue to create a great deal of uncertainty within the community. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial for Australians to access the healthcare system at the right time and we will continue to do all we can to ensure they feel safe and confident to do so.”

The report found the fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus in a healthcare setting is keeping more than one-in-three Australians (42.4 per cent) from seeing their healthcare practitioner. This is despite 70 per cent identifying preventative health (including ‘well visits,’ immunisations and screenings) as a priority during the pandemic.

For those pursuing elective surgery or a medical procedure (any procedure that is not an emergency), 36.9 per cent were concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 during surgery or post-op, with nearly one-fifth (19 per cent) of Australians expressing concern in the ability of healthcare facilities they visit to properly manage the risk of patient exposure to COVID-19.

Most delayed or cancelled healthcare services due to COVID-19 were healthcare appointments that require close face-to-face contact with a healthcare professional. Almost one-third (30.7 per cent) of Australians delayed or cancelled their dental care and almost one-in-five (17.3 per cent) delayed or cancelled their eye care

Johnson & Johnson Medical has launched the 'My Health Can’t Wait' information hub and resources that are designed to provide Australians with resources and information to feel confident and safe about prioritising their healthcare.

According to Sue Martin, managing director of Johnson & Johnson Medical, “We know that delayed or deferred medical care could increase morbidity and mortality associated with both chronic and acute health conditions. We are committed to helping people live their healthiest lives, which means getting the care they need, when they need.

"We are launching 'My Health Can’t Wait' and joining the industry, which has lately come together to help Australian patients feel comfortable and safe in seeking healthcare. With this campaign, we hope to give Australians the information and confidence they need to get back into healthcare settings as soon as possible.”

The report found the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will be the turning point for many Australians. Over one-third (38.5 per cent) said a vaccine would make them more confident when pursuing elective surgery or another medical procedure during the pandemic. Nearly one-third (28.4 per cent) would not be scheduling another healthcare appointment until a COVID-19 vaccine was available to them.

Nearly one-quarter of Australians (24.8 per cent) said they are more likely to schedule a surgery or medical procedure if they were given the choice of using telehealth to stay connected with their healthcare provider.

Older Australians (65+ years) are also likely to be the hardest to convert when it comes to digital ways of speaking to a healthcare professional. Over one-third (33 per cent) of those aged between 25 and 44 were more likely to schedule a surgery or medical procedure if they had access to telehealth to stay connected with their healthcare provider before and after the procedure. This compared to just 11 per cent of Australians aged 65 and over.

Ms Martin added, “We know that our public and private hospitals have worked tirelessly to create a safe environment for people to continue to access care. However, in our research, we found that people would be more confident in pursuing an elective surgery or medical procedure if they knew the details of the hospital’s sanitation policies (19.8 per cent) and hospital policies around COVID-19 testing (18.3 per cent). Our website resources provide checklists for both patients and healthcare professionals on key questions and topics to discuss to engender confidence in pursuing medical procedures.”