With the rise in COVID-19 cases, the Director of Medical Services (DMS) Singapore made an announcement on the restructuring of hospitals for future enhanced measures. All hospitals were instructed to defer non-urgent surgery and o op appointments at specialist outpatient clinics until further notice — this caused a backlog and delay in appointments, so if you’ve experienced this, you’re not the only one.
Daily cases have risen exponentially and this put a strain on the healthcare system. Read on as General Surgeon with double subspecialties in Colorectal Surgery and Trauma Surgery, Dr Aaron Poh, gives us insight into how this could adversely affect us and important measures we should take in the midst of this pandemic.
The deferment of non-urgent cases and appointments at specialist outpatient clinics mean longer waiting times for your appointments at government hospitals.
“What’s important to note is that this means surgical conditions that may not have been very urgent at first, now take on more urgency given that many patients have delayed treatment by 6 months or more. Examples of these include gallstone surgery, hernia surgery and dialysis fistula creation surgery”, explains Dr Aaron Poh.
There have also been long waiting times for screenings, such as endoscopies. An endoscopy helps test for diseases and conditions in the digestive system such as anaemia, bleeding, inflammation or cancers. Due to the long waiting time for endoscopy slots, there is a sizeable pool of patients who may have undiagnosed cancers.
In fact, Dr Poh had just diagnosed colorectal cancer in a symptomatic patient who otherwise was only given an endoscopy slot this December in a restructured hospital. A 3-4 month delay for cancer is not ideal, and the prognosis for this patient may not have been the same if they had waited until their appointed slot in December.
Chronic diseases such as diabetes and renal impairment may also have deteriorated due to the patients’ fear of going for follow-ups and hence, the lack of motivation to catch up on their health.
With cases on the rise, many patients, especially the elderly, have postponed their follow-ups for fear of visiting hospitals. Understandably, a clinical sitting may cause fear of getting sick, especially during the time of an outbreak. You may ask yourself, “why risk actually getting sick when my symptoms are minor?”. However, this mindset can do more harm than good as although your symptoms may be minor now, they can progress quickly.
Working from home also brings about non-cancerous issues like gastritis, acid reflux, IBS and chronic back pain. Such conditions will be a very low priority for appointment slots for the upcoming 6 months or longer.
“Not catching Covid” isn’t the only thing we should be worried about during this pandemic and it is of paramount importance that we manage other aspects of our health, making the term “self-care” more important than ever.
Adopt some lifestyle changes
Remember to eat a healthy, balanced diet, get your daily dose of exercise and clock in at least 8 hours of sleep.
Don’t skip your follow-ups
If you have follow-up appointments with your doctor, attend them. There are troubling consequences for people who put off their routine checks during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is important not to skip these check-ups even if you’re nervous about venturing into a clinic.
Putting your health on hold is a mistake
The pandemic has impacted the country’s healthcare capacity and led to long waiting times of about 6 months or longer. If you find yourself suffering from serious symptoms or suspect a condition, perhaps you could consider private healthcare instead. For many conditions, early diagnosis and treatment could mean a matter of life and death — just because an issue you have is not so serious now, doesn’t mean it may not become a serious condition later.
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