Why you shouldn’t avoid seeing your GP right now

You may think it’s best to steer clear of your GP clinic during the coronavirus outbreak – but doctors say missing vital health checks may actually put you in harm’s way.

Doctors fear patients may be putting their health at risk by forgoing GP visits during the coronavirus pandemic.

GP clinics across Australia have reported a drop in patient numbers during the pandemic, because people are concerned they will catch COVID-19 or are having difficulty transitioning to telehealth services. Others may be concerned that their doctor is too busy dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

But the Australian Patients Association (APA) says failing to seek treatment for mild to moderate health issues could place unnecessary pressure on hospitals later, including during peak flu season.

“Patients should not be staying away from their regular or ad hoc GP consultations if they have an issue needing medical attention,” says APA chief executive Stephen Mason.

Delaying GP visits could be life-threatening

The Australian Medical Association says while COVID-19 is a serious illness, failing to see a doctor or get any tests your GP has requested may have far worse health ramifications.

It is particularly important for patients with existing conditions to keep their regular appointments, says AMA president Dr Tony Bartone.

“If conditions aren’t controlled, patients could end up with unplanned visits to hospitals or, in some cases, lifelong or life-threatening complications,” says Dr Bartone.

And potentially life-threatening medical conditions may also go undetected if people avoid their GP, he says.

“We’re already seeing concerning significant reductions in investigative diagnostic tests, including skin cancer biopsies and cervical cytological screening,” he says.

“This means we’re missing the vital diagnosis of conditions such as cancer, endocrine disorders, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, and nutritional deficiencies.”

How to see your GP in person or via telehealth

Visiting your doctor remotely

Anyone with a Medicare card can visit a range of health professionals, including GPs, allied health practitioners and midwives, via bulk-billed telehealth or telephone consultations.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Harry Nespolon believes some patients are avoiding consultations because they are uncomfortable using technology such as video conferencing.

“It’s important to emphasise to all patients that the MBS item does apply for telephone consultations, not just Skype, Zoom and FaceTime and the like. An old-fashioned phone will do just fine,” he says.

Telehealth or phone consultations are suitable for managing chronic conditions that are stable (such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure), ordering repeat prescriptions or getting a referral.

Doctors can now email prescriptions either to their patient or directly to a pharmacy.

In-person GP visits

The AMA says medical practices are doing everything they can to ensure the chances of coming into contact with coronavirus are extremely low, if not negligible.

“If you do need to see your doctor face to face, waiting rooms around the country have adapted to cope with the requirements of health authorities to keep people safe,” Dr Bartone says.

This may include limiting the number or people in waiting rooms, or asking patients to wait in their car or outside until the doctor is ready.

It is important to call your GP to make an appointment, which will also allow you to find out about social distancing measures at your clinic.

Essential coronavirus information

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

Information, news and government guidance on COVID-19 changes regularly. For the latest official health and government advice, visit:

Written by Liz McGrath.