The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to care and health services for chronic patients in Southern Switzerland.

Levati, Sara and Soldini, Emiliano and Prandi, Cesarina (2021) The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to care and health services for chronic patients in Southern Switzerland. In: Swiss Public Health Conference 2021, 25-26 agosto 2021, Bern/online.

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Background The global spread of the virus has forced many countries in the world to repurpose physical infrastructure, such as hospitals, wards, beds and technical equipment, and workforce resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led many hospitals to postpone elective surgery and in-person visits for other non-essential services, especially during the first wave of the pandemic. How countries define ‘essential’ or ‘urgent’ care varies, but there is a genuine agreement on the fact that preventive, diagnostic, therapeutic, rehabilitative or palliative services cannot be delayed without major disadvantage to the patient´s health. However, health care delay or avoidance might expose high-risk populations, including people affected by chronic conditions, to an increase in morbidity and mortality. In addition, when patients with a chronic disease do not receive appropriate care or do not have their condition under control, they face an increased risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19. Aim The aim of this study is to examine the pandemic impact on access to care and health services for people affected by chronic conditions in Southern Switzerland. Methods Data are collected in the context of Corona Immunitas Ticino, which is part of a national research programme that investigates the spread and impact of the corona pandemic in Switzerland launched by the Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+). A specific questionnaire was developed and administered to 1068 participants that agreed to participate in the longitudinal study of the adult cohort (20-64 years old). Questions explored potential consequences of the pandemic on the evolution of chronic illnesses, the degree of fear of getting infected, and the impact that the measures introduced during the first wave had on access to drugs and pharmaceutical products; diagnostic services; check-ups and visits; GP consultations; and Emergency Department visits. Questions also explored the reasons for not accessing services. The relationships between participants’ characteristics and self-reported access to care and services will be assessed using bivariate statistics and multivariate methods. Discussion Findings from the analysis will be discussed in light of the preventive measures introduced in Southern Switzerland between March and June 2020 and discuss possible policy options to maintain and improve access to care.

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