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Income plummets for community health sector

May 22, 2020

Income plummets for community health sector

Car park patient treatments have been a major change during lockdown for Otumoetai Health Centre. Photo: Ben Mollison

Patients staying home and avoiding routine check-ups are among reasons some income has dropped between as much as 90 per cent for some community medical practices during lockdown, says the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

But a positive from lockdown is that some of the innovative methods used for appointments may continue, says Dr Bryan Betty, RNZCGP medical director.

Meanwhile, under Level 2, one Tauranga GP says patient processing under Level 2 will continue to limit numbers.

Dr Betty said the co-payment income from patients and government dropped anywhere between 50 to 90 percent during lockdown,

Most routine care was sidelined during lockdown to allow laboratories to focus on Covid-19 testing.

Declining business is partly due to many patients staying home and avoiding routine check-ups.

“We saw anything from a 40 to 50 per cent drop off in patients contacting and coming through general practice.

“[Another] more hidden impact is that there is a whole burden of deferred care that starts to build up within the system, so that when you come down the levels there’s quite likely to be a lot of catch up to be done,” he says.

He says despite the workload ahead, GPs remain less efficient with patient processing because of physical distancing.

Meanwhile, Dr Robin Burness, Otumoetai Health Centre chairman, says his practice has seen a large decline in patients during the lockdown.

“I think foremost there’s a little bit of fear. People are not going to hospital or to their GPs because it’s perceived that that is a risk area or an activity for catching Covid,” he says

He says hospitals haven’t been swamped because community health centres have been on the “front line” of caring for the majority of respiratory illness cases.

To ensure patient safety and align with lockdown healthcare policies, he says many changes were quickly made.

“To try and limit the cross contamination from one doctor or nurse to other members of staff, we initiated this pod system, then we went primarily to phone consultations.

“We have been assessing some people even in the car park which is a completely new thing for us,” he says.

Dr Betty says these kinds of changes could become part of the new normal for community healthcare.

“I can see a situation where we come out of this, that what will be offered to patients is either an in person, a video, or a telephone appointment.

“I can see a range of different appointments being offered to the patient which actually is a positive out of all this,” he says.

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