7 July 2020
Reassuring patients on COVID-19 risk
GPs now have a framework to inform patients who are concerned about their ongoing risk factors for developing severe COVID-19 illness.
The COVID-19 action plan, published this week by the Department of Health, works as a guide to help GPs talk with their vulnerable patients about ways they can manage their increased risk of severe illness from the virus.
Through shared decision-making, the guide works to determine patient priorities while looking at how to mitigate the risks of being infected by COVID-19 in the community.
In Australia only 13% of the total cases of notified COVID-19 were admitted to hospital, a rate lower than many other countries such as Canada (16%) and the European Union countries (36%).
But several risk factors have been identified for developing severe COVID-19 illness, such as being over 50 years of age, being a First Nations person, or having comorbidities such as obesity, uncontrolled diabetes or respiratory disease.
“At all times people at higher risk should maintain physical distancing, practise good respiratory and hand hygiene, use the COVIDSafe app, and stay at home and get tested for COVID-19 if they have even mild cold or flu-like symptoms,” the authors said.
The guide also recommends that patients with risk factors try to avoid any situations where physical distancing can’t be maintained.
“In situations that cannot be avoided – for example, travelling to work on public transport – and where physical distancing cannot be maintained, people at risk could consider wearing a mask,” the authors said.
GPs are also encouraged to talk to their patients about the epidemiology of COVID-19 and reassure them that if there is low transmission in the local community, their risk remains low.
“When considering risk, it is important that patients understand that their risk relates to the presence of a hazard, in this case, SARS-CoV-2 and exposure to the hazard,” the authors said.
“Whilst they may have factors that increase their risk for more severe COVID-19, if they are not exposed to SARS-CoV-2, they are not at risk of COVID-19.”
The guide also reminds GPs that now may be the best time to develop a COVID-19 action plan with at-risk patients, while there is a low level of disease in the community.
GPs can access the COVID-19 action plan here.