KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — Patient visits to private general practitioner (GP) clinics have dropped significantly due to fear of the novel coronavirus, a medical group said.
Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia (MPCAM) president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah noted that such clinics are shunned by patients who are worried about being infected by Covid-19 — even when there is no reason to be.
“There have been cases where rumours have been spread that a certain clinic in a certain location has had a Covid-19 patient, and that clinic has seen an 80 per cent drop for the next few days.
“Even normal patients don’t want to go, normal patients without Covid-19 also don’t want to go,” he said during a press conference at the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) House today.
Dr Raj Kumar said his group has since advised private GPs — of which there are at least 7,000 in the country, and about 3,000 in the Klang Valley alone — to strictly abide by coronavirus response guidelines, which have been reformatted by the MMA in a simple and easy-to-follow fashion.
“What we are asking our GPs to do is, any case that they suspect with URTI (upper respiratory tract infection) symptoms or people who have gone to China, so the nurse will triage at the counter,” he said.
“All URTI symptoms, as far as possible, we will try to get them to go on a different pathway to see the doctor, and not meet the other patients with other medical problems, to prevent as much contact as possible.”
Family doctors have also been told to give suspected Covid-19 patients the necessary medication and face masks, and to advise them to stay away from people and get adequate rest.
This is so that even if they are later confirmed to have the coronavirus, they do not spread the infection, said Dr Raj Kumar, who is also a GP himself and an MMA member.
“So, give them adequate MC (medical certificate), probably three to five days, and…advise them to come back to the same clinic, and not go clinic hopping; come back to the same clinic and the same doctor.
“And on the second visit, if we feel that this person needs to be referred to one of the 57 hospitals that the KKM (Ministry of Health) has designated, we will refer them,” he said, adding that district health offices have been asked to assist in shuttling these patients away.
If a patient tests positive for Covid-19 after being screened at a selected 57 government hospitals, they are sent to one of 26 government hospitals for admission and to be isolated from the public.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Christopher Lee, who was also at the press conference, said the government has taken steps to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission at its hospitals, amid concerns of people going to the hospital and getting infected too.
“For example, in Hospital Sungai Buloh, I have seen the screening site, they have organised all the chairs… one metre apart,” he said, adding that those going to screening sites are also given face masks.
GPs, meanwhile, have also been advised to disinfect areas that a Covid-19 patient has touched, like doorknobs and chairs, after they are referred to a government hospital.
Dr Raj Kumar added that GPs have been warned against overcharging patients and to instead charge minimum rates for consultation and treatment.
“We don’t want these people to avoid coming to doctors and self-treat themselves, and then cause further spread of the infection,” he said, noting that doctors have also been told to encourage patients to seek treatment if they don’t feel well.
MMA president Dr N. Ganabaskaran, on the other hand, urged patients to be upfront about their travel history, highlighting a recent case in Banting where a clinic was sealed off after a patient who previously visited China showed up.
“You come in there, you don’t tell us. I can’t ask you, you know, you’re not wearing a mask, and it’s not fair…basically it’s the wrong thing to ask someone, ‘Did you go to China?’ Is it right to ask? It’s not right. Anybody can spread.
“But the person who came didn’t tell the doctor, didn’t tell the nurse. They walked in, the doctor did, as a doctor must do, did the treatment. Subsequently, he found out that the person had gone and visited some (place with) coronavirus infection.”
Health officials then sealed off the clinic and told doctor and nurses working there to be quarantined for 14 days, Dr Ganabaskaran said, who also cautioned against spreading fake news and unverified information about Covid-19.