Taking the temperature of general practice during COVID-19

The past month has seen unprecedented changes occur in healthcare, and society in general, and this week we’ve finally had a moment to lift our head above the water and take a breath. Most healthcare workers and organisations have had to adapt quickly and develop new processes and protocols on the fly. This is particularly true in General Practice, the majority of which are small businesses and are the foundation stone of Primary Care.

Our clinic in Anglesea is co-located with Barwon Health allied health services and it has been interesting to note the differences between a large state based health organisation and our small GP clinic in terms of adaptability. It is certainly much easier for a small organisation to be agile and responsive, and much easier to develop a plan and implement it without the requirements of going through committees or multiple approval processes. It is also due to the fact that the bread and butter of General Practice is managing uncertainty by developing a plan, which has been key in this current environment.

What we do

As GPs we are trained to work across a number of levels that encompass some of the following;

  • direct clinical care with diagnosing, treating, and managing disease
  • continual learning with ongoing knowledge and skills development
  • awareness of public health priorities, including screening and preventative care
  • financial considerations on a patient, clinic and population level.

Another way of looking at this is that while we are working with the patient in front of us, we are always considering the context of the broader community – both locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. To this extent, we are applying national guidelines and evidence to a regional community and the patients we are seeing. There is value in following the expert advice available and implementing it appropriately for the community we work with.

Adaptation and community

In the span of a few short weeks our clinic has moved to protect our staff, patients and community by early implementation of distancing and hygiene processes, as well as embracing providing care via Telehealth. We have developed our own processes for triaging patients, safe swabbing to test people for Coronavirus, providing a safe and innovative Influenza Vaccination clinic, and monitoring and looking after the health of our staff – all while continuing to provide face to face services where these are needed. We have had to adapt these processes almost continuously, as governmental guidelines and legislation change rapidly – at times this has occurred on a daily basis.

Throughout this time we have attempted to provide information to our local community and patients. This has involved liaising with local community based groups, the local residential aged care facility, our pharmacies, and other nearby clinics. And it has been heartwarming to see how engaged and supportive the Anglesea and surrounding community has been in embracing these rapid changes. Without this community support there are many people who would struggle to manage the day to day changes that have occurred. We can’t thank you all enough.

So where to now?

As things sit, we feel we have a moment’s reprieve and that the coming weeks will determine the outcome of the next few months. With the majority of people adhering to guidelines by staying home there has been an effect on slowing the rate of infections. However, at this pivotal time it is vital to maintain that strong commitment, and not shrug off the responsibility we all have to work together at preventing further spread of this novel coronavirus.

We also need to be planning for less positive outcomes and the potential impact that increased spread of this disease could have. There are many people who are at risk, particularly most of our older population, but also those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of significant illness if they acquire the virus. For those who are older, we know that the spread of disease is likely to cause deaths, and we must be prepared for how we manage this if it does occur.

General health

But it is not just the impact of Coronavirus that we must plan for, it is also for all the ongoing health needs of our community. If people are not accessing GP services throughout the coming weeks and months, through fear, or not wanting to impact on services, or feeling it’s not important enough, there will also be a higher burden on our health system. We want to keep hearing from you and will continue to encourage people to manage their ongoing chronic conditions and do so in a safe environment.

It is also vital that we stay connected to each other, and watch carefully for the potential impact on our mental health. There are a number of good online resources for support, but we would also encourage you to get in touch if you are finding your mood or worries or thoughts are becoming too difficult to manage.

Here are some reliable and useful resources around mental health and COVID-19:

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