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A new University of Otago study released yesterday found the patients’ behaviour was caused by concerns their repeat supplies of medicines might be affected by border closures.
"More worryingly, some GPs said their vulnerable and high-needs Maori, Pacific, elderly and rural patients were going without medicines or had reduced their dosages because they were too scared to leave the house to pick them up from the pharmacy, or too cash-strapped to go in and pay for them, perhaps due to a job loss or strained household income," lead author Dr Geraldine Wilson said.
The University of Otago (Christchurch) department of general practice research fellow said the study surveyed more than 160 New Zealand GPs, practice nurses and nurse practitioners over a period of 16 weeks from May last year, examining how they dealt with the pandemic-induced change to electronic patient prescriptions (e-prescribing).
Dr Wilson said the results showed most GPs were resoundingly in favour of the shift, welcomed the move and handled it confidently, but some reported being ill-prepared and left struggling with technical issues.
"Cost of installation and technical barriers were a real issue for a few, while others had systems that weren’t compatible with those in pharmacies, delaying their ability to get scripts to patients and whanau as quickly as they would have liked."
She said some prescribers also expressed discomfort with both the number of repeat prescriptions they were suddenly giving out without the patient being seen, and the effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on patient behaviour.
While most primary care practices had since managed to fix technical issues, concerns remained about medication access for patients, and the gaps the survey found in the home delivery of medicines for patients who needed it.
Some of these issues might still be unresolved amid the present restrictions for some GPs and practices, she said.
To counter this problem during last year’s lockdown, some practices proactively linked their high-needs patients to pharmacy home delivery services.
Dr Wilson believed New Zealand could look at adopting a more formalised home medicine service as Australia had done, which would ensure more vulnerable patients had the medicines they needed delivered to their doors.