New report shines light on the impact of COVID-19 on general practice in Australia

A new report reveals some of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on general practice in Australia. The data used is poised to shine a light on how COVID-19 affects long-term health.

NPS MedicineWise released the fifth General Practice Insights Report today. It looks at around 2.5 million patients’ de-identified data in 2020-21 from the MedicineInsight program.

MedicineInsight, managed by independent, not-for-profit NPS MedicineWise, contains data from the clinical software of consenting general practices. The dataset covers 10.8% of all Australian GPs and 11.4% of all patients seen by GPs nationally. This is a sample similar to the general patient population in age, sex and socio-economic status.

The data shows common chronic health conditions and aspects of patient care.

The report listed the top 5 non-communicable conditions recorded in 2020-21. These were hypertension, depression, anxiety disorder, lower back pain and Gastro Oesphageal Reflux Disease (GORD or acid reflux),”

Dr Caroline West, GP and NPS MedicineWise Spokesperson.

“The report also shows how prescribing changed through the pandemic.

“At the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, there was stockpiling of all medicine classes we studied. Prescribing then returned to normal for most classes.  

“Prescribing for some medicine classes, however, didn’t return to normal levels. Since April 2020 doctors have been prescribing fewer antibiotics. This was particularly striking during major lockdowns. An explanation could be that people had fewer respiratory infections due to public health measures implemented during lockdowns.

The report shows how people used telehealth more during COVID-19 outbreaks. This peaked around April 2020 and September 2021 during the first COVID-19 outbreak and the Delta wave.

MedicineInsight includes records of vaccinations and COVID-19 infections. There were almost 11,000 people in the dataset with a recorded COVID-19 infection until December 2021.

“While reports of ‘long-COVID’ were recorded in the dataset, there were not high numbers at the time the data was collected,” says Dr West.

“However, COVID-19 infections increased dramatically in 2022 and we would now expect a much higher number of cases to appear in the dataset.

“The MedicineInsight dataset could be a valuable resource for exploring the impact of COVID-19 on long-term health in the future.

“MedicineInsight is only possible thanks to the general practices around Australia that share their
de-identified data. Combined with the excellent data governance framework, MedicineInsight data is increasingly being used to improve health care delivery and ultimately improve the health of Australians,” she says.

To read the full General Practice Insights Report 2020-21, go to www.nps.org.au/medicine-insight

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