Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Rural GPs brace themselves for Omicron spread

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MANAGING Omicron in rural areas is likely to mean more medical consultations carried out either virtually or over the phone.
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STRAIN: If there is the predicted Omicron surge, rural GPs do not have the capacity to manage that level of service either by phone or in person consultations.

MANAGING Omicron in rural areas is likely to mean more medical consultations carried out either virtually or over the phone.

This will help reduce the risk of whether people are symptomatic of this covid-19 variant or not, Rural GP Network chair Dr Fiona Bolden says.

Rural GPs are largely familiar with phone or virtual consultations after having used it when the Delta variant emerged.

Virtually overnight rural practices tried to do at least half of their consultations that way.

Some rural people preferred this method of service because of the long distance many had to travel for face-to-face consultation, assuming they had cellphone coverage.

If there is the predicted Omicron surge, as the country shifted into phase two and three of the Government’s Omicron strategy, rural GPs did not have the capacity to manage that level of service either by phone or in person consultations.

Compounding the challenge is the limited mobile and internet access in many areas.

“What we do need to do is get people used to the idea of how they are going to manage mild to moderate level symptoms – how you would manage it if you had a bad flu,” Bolden said.

That management included basic medical supplies such as a temperature reader and paracetamol and ibuprofen.

“If you have to isolate, make sure you have food at home to keep you going,” she said.

“For the majority of people, provided they are immunised – particularly if they have had their booster – will have mild to moderate symptoms and not severe symptoms because the hospitalisation is a lot less severe with Omicron per case than it is with Delta.”

She said it will be similar to having a bad cold or flu.

Provided the farmer was immunised, they should be able to isolate on their farm.

To that end, it was vital that farmers received the booster shot, she said.

Rural people will need to be more self-reliant than their urban counterparts because of those challenges, she said.

“The main thing though is that we identify those people most at risk and that we make sure we have a way to monitor those people so if they do deteriorate … we have a way of giving them the appropriate care,” she said.

“What we don’t want is people isolating on their farm and doing what rural people do – managing – and then suddenly getting really ill and there not being enough time to do anything about it.”

GPs are more than likely the best people to make that identification.

Self-management was critical for preventing this from happening. Farmers particularly at risk include those who are pregnant, over 60 years of age, or have an underlying medical condition, she said.

Bolden hoped there would be more information from the Government in the coming weeks regarding how monitoring those in the at-risk category could work because Omicron involved so many more people.

For now, those people should still contact their GP if they do feel unwell, she said, adding that people also have to be realistic given that it is a pandemic.

“The problem is that if there is a huge Omicron outbreak and people contact their GP, they are not going to be able to do the normal things that they do to keep people well every day,” she said.

Bolden said rural GPs have been asking the Government for access to rapid antigen testing (RAT) since November. 

They are still waiting for information on whether they will be available for rural GPs to help speed up Omicron diagnosis in remote areas both for patients and medical staff.

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