Canadians with chronic health issues not visiting physicians: survey

About 44 per cent of Canadians with chronic health conditions have not visited a doctor in-person during the pandemic.

Edmonton Journal 3 minute read April 12, 2021

An Edmonton doctor is urging those with chronic health conditions to stay connected with their doctors after a national survey found nearly half of Canadians with a long-term diagnosis have not visited their physician during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A national survey conducted by health-care company Novo Nordisk found 44 per cent of Canadians with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, have not visited a doctor in-person during the ongoing global pandemic. Thirty-eight per cent of those surveyed said they are avoiding the health-care system and 19 per cent said they have not visited their doctor either in-person or virtually.

Dr. Daniel Shafran, a physician who specializes in internal medicine at Edmonton’s Baker Clinic and the Misericordia Hospital, said that he has seen a drop in attendance at his practices. Working primarily with patients with diabetes, he said those living with chronic conditions need to weigh the risks of COVID-19 against the risks of not treating their disease appropriately.

“A lot of patients are uncomfortable about venturing out, particularly if they have to use transit or sit in a waiting room. So, they are opting or requesting for virtual care or phone calls in lieu of an in-person visit,” said Shafran “There are some things that can be adequately managed over the phone, or through a virtual appointment … but not everything.”

Shafran noted there are certain indicators of worsening diseases that are much more difficult to watch for through video or phone calls. For example, he said diabetics often have issues with their feet that he can view through pictures but it is much easier to monitor in a clinic. He said physicians are able to assess if virtual or in-person care is appropriate for their patients.

He noted that there are measures being taken on transit and in health clinics to stop COVID-19 from spreading.

“You lose that sort of human element, that relationship-building, that’s really important between a clinician and his or her patient. (Physicians) use some of the subtlety of the interaction to truly get a sense of how people are doing,” said Shafran.

He said if those living with health issues continue avoid their doctor they could develop complications and health risks that are urgent.

“I had a consult about a patient who missed her annual checkup last year,” said Shafran. “So now we’re coming in on almost two years since her last appointment and her blood sugar average is almost double where it should be … so now we are looking at our more aggressive treatments because things are more out of control. And there’s a higher risk of complications when you bring in more aggressive treatments.”

Shafran also noted most prescriptions only last a year, so many people may not have access to preventative medicine. He said those with underlying health conditions are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and said they should book an appointment as soon as possible.


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