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“Diaries of a Pandemic”: how are the Portuguese resorting to healthcare services?

How are the Portuguese citizens resorting to healthcare services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? One can find some of the answers in the latest results of the study “Diaries of a pandemic”, which were released today. This initiative was launched by the Institute of Public Health of the University of Porto (ISPUP) and by INESC TEC, in partnership with the newspaper Público.

17th April 2020

How are the Portuguese citizens resorting to healthcare services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? One can find some of the answers in the latest results of the study “Diaries of a pandemic”, which were released today. This initiative was launched by the Institute of Public Health of the University of Porto (ISPUP) and by INESC TEC, in partnership with the newspaper Público.

According to the data from March 23 to April 8, the Portuguese citizens resorted mainly to family doctors (remotely) and to the SNS 24 phone-line to obtain healthcare instructions related to COVID-19. The results also show that families with chronically ill patients and children under 10 years of age represented the highest number of contacts with healthcare services. Moreover, the healthcare professionals were the ones who most sought out family doctors and public hospitals.

The study, launched on March 23, invites citizens to answer a set of question on a daily basis, which will help understanding the evolution in the lives of Portuguese people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results released today apply to the period between March 23 and April 8, in which 10,391 people (aged between 16 and 89 years old) completed 73,617 questionnaires.

Remote contact with family doctors and SNS 24 phone-line are the most common

The majority of the participants resorted to their family doctors through remote contacts, as well as to the SNS 24 phone-line. As expected, face-to-face interactions were quite exceptional.

Data show that during March, 8.4% of the participants tried to contact the SNS 24 phone-line, but 3.6% were unsuccessful. However, this obstacle did not led the citizens to seek on-site healthcare: either in hospitals or healthcare centres.

Moreover, the respondents who were unable to contact the SNS 24 phone-line went to pharmacies more often than those who were able to do so.

Citizens who have contacted with individuals infected with COVID-19 were the ones who sought healthcare services the most

People who were in contact with citizens with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 were the ones who most frequently sought any type of healthcare support: family doctor, SNS 24 phone-line, public hospitals and primary or private healthcare services (less frequently).

Participants who reported having at least one of the symptoms that health authorities associate with COVID-19 e.g. coughing, fever and difficulty breathing, were the ones who most frequently resorted to healthcare services.

It’s important to mention that citizens who reported being infection-prone went to pharmacies more often than those who had high-risk contacts and actually showed symptoms of the disease.

Families with chronically ill members or children under 10 years of age were the ones who more often sought healthcare support

Concerning the aforementioned period, the remote contacts with family doctors and the SNS 24 phone-line were the main medium among people living with individuals with chronic illness (hypertension, diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, cancer and immunosuppressive drugs therapy, etc.) and families who had children under the age of 10.

It’s important to point out that the need for this type of healthcare support was not determined solely by the presence of adults aged 60 or more in the household.

Healthcare professionals resort to family doctors and public hospitals more often

Healthcare professionals and social workers were the ones who contacted family doctors more regularly, followed by workers in the secondary sector.

Healthcare professionals were the ones who most resorted to public hospitals, possibly due to the fact that they’re more exposed to risk and work closely with hospitals.

Younger men prefer the SNS 24 phone-line

The study shows that younger men (less than 40 years old) and women aged 60 years or older have a preference for the SNS 24 phone-line. Men over 60 years of age and women between 40 and 59 years old prefer resorting to their family doctor.

As to contacts with private healthcare services, the majority were men over 60 years old.

In general, people with less income were the ones who resorted to healthcare services the most, contrary to individuals living in Alentejo and Algarve.

People should keep participating

The researchers of the “Diaries of a Pandemic” will continue to collect information about the way the Portuguese citizens act according to a set of situations that may influence the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in Portugal, and they will release new results on a weekly basis.

In order to keep producing relevant scientific knowledge in this field, we need your collaboration. In this sense, we ask you to keep dedicating 5 to 10 minutes of your time and answer our survey questions.

If you’re not part of the “Diaries of a Pandemic” yet, you can start right now.

A multidisciplinary team from INESC TEC is involved in this study, comprising the following elements: Artur Rocha, Coordinator of the Centre for Information Systems and Computer Graphics (CSIG), Gonçalo Gonçalves, CSIG researcher, Jaime Dias, manager of the Systems Administration Service (SAS), Vasco Rosa Dias, Data Protection Officer, and Gabriel David, member of INESC TEC Executive Board.

The INESC TEC researchers mentioned in this news piece are associated with INESC TEC.