Aussies didn't skip GP trip in COVID times

·2-min read

Australians kept going to the doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the mental health of almost one in three suffered amid increasing social isolation.

Those are among the insights gleaned from the Australian Healthcare Index, a new report checking the pulse of the national system through patient perspectives.

In the first survey of 8168 Australians last November, more than one in three (37.3 per cent) reported having more appointments than usual over the previous six months.

Some 53 per cent said they maintained their typical level of visits to the doctor or other healthcare provider, while just 8.5 per cent had fewer than usual.

"It can be presumed that concerns relating to COVID-19 may have been involved," said the report, released on Thursday.

Just a fraction (6.4 per cent) said they hadn't had a health-related appointment, with most either having one to three (44.9 per cent) or four or more (48.6 per cent).

Despite enduring a lockdown-interrupted year, 64.8 per cent of respondents reported their health was the same as six months ago and 14.2 per cent suggested it had improved.

The group's uptick in health could be "connected with people getting more exercise during social isolation", the report says.

Nonetheless, one in five of those surveyed reported their health had deteriorated and 28 per cent flagged declining mental health.

With many people spending long spells in social isolation, the poll asked Australians to name the three best methods they found to deal with it.

The top responses were phone or video calls (54.2 per cent), exercising more (40.2) and getting outside in nature more (37.9).

Others said they watched TV more (24.5), read more (16.2), worked more (15.4), sought mental health or wellness support (13.6) and meditated (7.3)

"Within the open-ended responses, 44.6 per cent said they didn't feel the effects of social isolation or didn't isolate due to location or essential work," the report said.

"This recognises that different parts of the country have had a range of pandemic experiences."

Index creators The Australian Patients Association and HealthEngine plan to produce a second report later this year, allowing for data comparisons and further insights.

OTHER AUSTRALIAN HEALTH INDEX FINDINGS

* Respondents rated the Australian healthcare system 7.8 out of 10 on average

* GPs earned a Net Promoter Score, an average measure of patient approval, of 49.3, dentists 1.1

* While an NPS above zero is considered good, the "open-ended responses showed people are avoiding the dentist, for reasons including cost and fear".

* 55.1 per cent of respondents have Private Health Insurance

* PHI providers earned a Net Promoter Score of -5.6, suggesting "there's a perception that the cost may be outweighing the benefits"

* 36.6 per cent of respondents think prescription medicine is too expensive

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