As health professionals and health systems respond to the pandemic, other health issues and programs have been shifted from the spot light as we manage competing priorities and new approaches to the provision of health care.
The pandemic has had major implications for how we all live, work, learn and interact. COVID-19 has impacted individuals, communities and organisations around the globe, with a particular impact on the provision of services and care. As health professionals and health systems respond to the pandemic, other health issues and programs have been shifted from the spotlight as we manage competing priorities and new approaches to the provision of health care. This has had a significant impact on rates of testing, diagnosis and treatment of other health conditions, such as HIV, asthma and cancer, and has changed the way health services are provided. For instance, during the peak of COVID-19 in Australia, there was a 10% drop in GP visits for the management of chronic disease, and an 18% drop in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health checks (Health Direct 2020).
However, the pandemic has also forced health systems and health care professionals to reshape and revolutionise the provision of health care. The expansion of telehealth and other digital health services have changed the way health care is delivered by broadening the reachability and flexibility of service provision. This is reflected in the changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, with an additional 28 telehealth items being added to the schedule for specialists and allied health professionals in 2020. This has allowed more patients to receive essential care during the pandemic, and encouraged flexibility and efficiency in the use of health care resources.
The overall impact of COVID-19 on Australian communities and health services has been relieved by the impressive public health response, and effective attributes of the Australian health system. The future of our health system continues to be reshaped by COVID-19, with a focus on the management of finite resources; integrating federal, state and local health systems; and emphasising a focus on funding for prevention and promotion of health care. Public health continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of prevention over cure by implementing strong measures early on, such as contact tracing, self-isolation, personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.
This year has been a whirlwind of unprecedented circumstances which have changed the way we all live, interact and deliver health care. As we adapt to this ‘new normal’, we must continue to highlight the positive impacts COVID-19 has had on encouraging innovation and responsiveness of the provision of care and services within Australia, and around the world.