COVID-19 and our patients - a checkup

June 11, 2021

Dr. Paul Boucher, AMA President

Dear Members:
 
As many of you are aware, as part of our advocacy and engagement with the public, we host an online patient community: albertapatients.ca. Through this forum we engage in dialogue with approximately 13,500 Albertans about health care issues in the province. Our latest survey, fielded May 19 to 27, asked our panel about their worries and priorities regarding their health care. We had more than 4,700 respondents and I want to share some of those results with you today.
 
COVID-19 Check up
 
COVID-19 infections are slowing and hopefully this will continue as Albertans avail themselves of vaccines and continue to follow public health measures. We have all been impacted by the events of the last year and a half, and the survey results highlight what we have been seeing in our practices. The results are sobering: lifestyle and livelihoods (for many) have shifted dramatically, contributing to a significant decline in physical and mental health.
 
More than half of respondents (52%) report that their physical health has declined since the start of the pandemic (15% say their health is now much worse). This is up 8% since November 2020 and tends to be more prominent in those under the age of 54 years, and those who have a chronic medical condition. The top reasons cited for the decline in physical health are: harder to exercise; fear of going to a health care provider; and isolation/not socializing.
 
The impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of Albertans is troubling. Almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents report a decline in their own mental health since the start of the pandemic. Nearly one quarter (23%) say their mental health is “much worse” now, a trend consistent with November 2020 research. Declining mental health due to COVID-19 is a more common response among women than men, those under the age of 55, and those with a chronic medical condition. Respondents point to both causes and symptoms for their declining mental health:

  • 47% struggle with social isolation, while others cite concerns about finances and the security or workload of their jobs, along with concerns for their own or their family’s health.
  • As a result, many say they are experiencing depression (17%), anxiety (16%), stress and worry (11%), along with less common outcomes like anger/frustration/irritability and insomnia/fatigue.
  • Only 7% of respondents say their mental health has improved since the pandemic began in March 2020.

I’ll share further survey results with you in the near future, specifically in reference to the care deficit that has been building. The deterioration in mental and physical wellness that Albertans are reporting may be a prelude of what is to come. We will spend more time with the albertapatients data, particularly the emerging impacts of the care deficit on individuals who have delayed seeking care or have been unable to obtain it. As COVID-19 retreats, there will be no “automatic reset” to what was before the pandemic. Patients have been changed. The health care system has been changed. I think the public needs to be aware of what we have learned from this research, and there will be media activity in the near future to help inform them.
 
I am interested in hearing from members about these results. What have you seen in your practice with your patients? What are they telling you they need? What is your experience in supporting them while meeting the challenging needs of keeping your own practice on an even keel? What advice do you have for your patients or for the AMA?
 
Over the summer ahead, there will be multiple opportunities to engage with the AMA and inform the Board about what is most pressing in your world. Responding to questions through my President’s Letters is just one method of engagement, and I truly value any time that members take to write to me directly so that I can hear about what's on their minds.
 
Stay well and safe.
 
Your comments are welcome in the following ways:

  • Communicate with me privately and directly by email if you would like a reply: president@albertadoctors.org 
  • Comment publicly on this President’s Letter on the AMA website (please be aware that comments are public, i.e., not members-only, even if you are logged in as a member).

Sincerely,
 
Paul E. Boucher, MD, FRCPC
President, Alberta Medical Association

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