BMC Health Services Research (Jun 2022)

The adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on health service usage among patients with type 2 diabetes in North Karelia, Finland

  • Laura Inglin,
  • Katja Wikström,
  • Marja-Leena Lamidi,
  • Tiina Laatikainen

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 1
pp. 1 – 14


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Abstract Aims The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged health systems and their capacity to deliver essential health services while responding to COVID-19. This study examines the pandemic’s impact on health service usage among patients with type 2 diabetes in the North Karelia region, in Finland. Methods This retrospective cohort study used electronic health records of 11,458 type 2 diabetes patients, comprising all primary and specialised care contacts in 2019 and 2020. We analysed diabetes and dental healthcare contacts to primary care nurses, doctors and dentists and all emergency visits in specialised care. We compared healthcare usage in three different periods in 2020 (pre-lockdown [1 January–15 March], lockdown [16 March–31 May], post-lockdown [1 June–31 December]) with the equivalent period in 2019. Results During the lockdown period, the number of diabetes-related contacts decreased significantly but quickly increased again to nearly the same level as in 2019. Overall, healthcare usage was lower in the pandemic year, with proportionally 9% fewer contacts per person (mean 2.08 vs 2.29) and a proportionally 9% lower proportion of patients making any contact (59.9% vs 65.8%). The proportion of remote consultations was similar in both years in the pre-lockdown period (56.3–59.5%) but then increased to 88.0% during the 2020 lockdown. Patterns were similar when analysed by age group and gender. Emergency visits went down significantly at the beginning of the lockdown period, but a “rebound effect” was observed, so after the lockdown, the number of emergency visits in 2020 exceeded the numbers of the previous year. Conclusion Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, diabetes care was continuous, and even elderly patients aged ≥70 years accessed the health services. The delivery of many essential services was facilitated by processes that strongly relied on telemedicine already before the pandemic.