People put off going to the doctor

Fourth wave UAntwerp’s corona study enquired about other health problems

The fourth wave of the Big Corona Study shows what doctors already feared: many people who suffer from non-COVID-19-related health problems do not seek medical help for them. For example, they do not want to overburden doctors or they fear getting infected with COVID-19.

As in previous weeks, Belgians were again able to participate in the University of Antwerp corona questionnaire on Tuesday. The universities of Hasselt and Leuven and the French-speaking ULB are also supporting this initiative. Around 225,000 people completed the questionnaire. In the previous weeks, there were more participants: between 345,000 and 560,000 people tackled the questions per wave.

‘This is probably due to a number of factors’, Prof. Philippe Beutels (UAntwerp) explains. ‘It is the Easter holidays, so fewer people are at their computers. The splendid weather undoubtedly enhances this effect. In addition, a form of ‘corona fatigue’ is probably beginning to play a role among the population. But 225,000 participants is, of course, still a huge number, for which we are very grateful. After four waves, we are almost at one million unique participants: that is unimaginable. Thanks to all these participants, we have a wealth of information, which we also share with government advisory bodies.’

Some findings

-          The corona crisis has been dragging on for several weeks. More and more people have friends, family and acquaintances who are infected the virus. 38% of respondents know a family member, friend or close colleague who has suffered or is suffering from COVID-19. 12% of participants know someone who had to be hospitalised, 5% know at least one person who did not survive the infection.

-          The vast majority have stopped shaking hands or kissing non-household members for several weeks. This figure is even higher for people who live with other people (95%) than for those who live alone (90%). A remarkable finding: On 7 April, 2.5% of respondents said that they had shaken hands with or kissed an ‘external party’.

-          Doctors have been sounding the alarm recently, suspecting that people with other health problems are not seeking medical help. This appears to be true according to the questionnaire data: 23% would have liked to have another health problem checked, but did not do so given the circumstances. Of these, more than half (52%) report that they are currently unable to see a doctor, physiotherapist or dentist about their health problems. Also, over 40% of them feel that it’s better to not burden health workers with their problem, and finally, almost a quarter (23%) indicate that they prefer to postpone their demand for health care for fear of being infected with COVID-19. Participants could list several reasons.

-          For the first time, the questionnaire also gauged the degree of trust Belgians place in various parties during this crisis period. This results in a top three of reliable parties:

1.       the scientific experts

2.       doctors and other health care workers

3.       the authorities