Modern Australian

Blaming the ‘worried well’ for long COVID testing queues won’t help anxious South Australians. This will

  • Written by Bridget Haire, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kirby Institute, UNSW

It’s been a big week for South Australia. First, the announcement of a six-day lockdown to limit the spread of COVID-19. Then today we heard this lockdown may have not been needed, after a man lied to contact tracers, prompting an early lifting of restrictions.

In between, South Australians have been waiting in queues for up to ten hours for COVID-19 tests. And the state’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier warned the “worried well” not to clog up important public health services.

Labelling people anxious about COVID-19 the “worried well” isn’t helping, especially in a climate of uncertainty, as South Australia has experienced this week. It might also discourage people with mild symptoms to come forward.

So who are the “worried well”? And what should we really be doing to encourage the right people to get tested?

Read more: South Australia's 6-day lockdown shows we need to take hotel quarantine more seriously

Who are the ‘worried well’?

The “worried well” is a term invented to describe apparently healthy people who think they might have a disease or medical problem, so see a doctor or have testing.

The term carries the whiff of a sneer, along with the implication such people are wasting health resources.

It shouldn’t be confused with hypochondria, which is chronic anxiety about your health to the level it may be considered a psychiatric illness.

The “worried well”, in contrast, are often responding to a situation that asks people to be paying special attention to an aspect of their health.

They might attend more regularly than required for cancer screening, for example. They are also more likely to believe it is important to take responsibility for their own health — a concept public health messaging actually reinforces.

Read more: How genetic testing is swelling the ranks of the 'worried well'

We can’t dismiss people’s real anxiety

Dismissing people who seek medical attention for vague ailments or unsubstantiated risks as the “worried well” ignores the very real problem of the anxiety created by attention to particular illnesses.

Anxiety can cloud health perceptions and judgements, and prompt people to seek reassurance.

In the face of a global pandemic, where an invisible pathogen is transmitted often through pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people, many of us are a bit anxious.

Read more: Goodbye, brain scrapers. COVID-19 tests now use gentler nose swabs

Vigilance can be useful for achieving compliance with the COVID-safe rules that have restructured our daily habits, such as physical distancing, avoiding touch and regularly washing our hands.

Anxiety is less useful if it results in people who have no known exposure and no COVID symptoms presenting for testing, particularly if there is a concern testing services may be stretched by demand.

However, applying a stigmatising label to such people is counterproductive.

Yes, it can be frustrating

In the context of an outbreak where there is urgent need to test people who have been exposed, and where testing capacity is being overwhelmed, reference to the “worried well” may be a symptom of public health officials’ understandable frustration.

It is, after all, a delicate balancing act to get everyone deemed at risk to test in a timely manner, without their ranks being swelled by those seeking reassurance who believe they were at risk but who have no clear or likely route of exposure.

But that doesn’t make the “worried well” a fair or useful label, and may work against achieving the widespread testing needed to control infection.

Read more: Why some people don't want to take a COVID-19 test

We’d be better off promoting testing as doing the ‘right thing’

New South Wales and Victoria have promoted COVID testing as doing the “right thing”. Both emphasise people with COVID-like symptoms should be tested regardless of whether they have had a known exposure.

Similarly, the South Australian government is asking everyone with COVID-like symptoms to be tested, regardless of whether the symptoms are mild.

One of the risks of a phrase like the “worried well” is different people can interpret it in different ways. So if someone with mild COVID-like symptoms is worried they might be called one of the “worried well”, they might second-guess themselves and not get tested.

We have seen the dire consequences of people underestimating a sniffle, or mild respiratory illness, in the terrible tragedy of the Newmarch House aged-care cluster in New South Wales earlier this year.

Clear, consistent, targeted public health messaging works

The best way to ensure the right people get tested is by using very clear, consistent and targeted public health messaging.

Currently, in South Australia this means people with symptoms, people who have been identified through contact tracing, and people who have visited sites listed on the contact tracing website where exposure may have occurred.

Clear and consistent repetition of these groups is needed throughout relevant media, including the broadcast media, internet and social media.

Have the ‘worried well’ really clogged up testing?

It is not possible to assess how many of the more than 617,000 COVID tests conducted in the state so far met the criteria of credible risk according to the published criteria.

But if there is serious concern there is unnecessary testing, this needs to be swiftly addressed by explaining who needs testing and why. This needs to be repeated in multiple places, including being visible where people queue to test.

Clear and accessible pathways also need to be provided for people with COVID anxiety who don’t meet testing criteria, which the state government is beginning to address.

This is so people can be reassured in ways that do not involve unnecessary testing, and if necessary learn how they can address their concerns using the appropriate designated mental health services.

Read more: 7 ways to manage your #coronaphobia

Authors: Bridget Haire, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kirby Institute, UNSW

Read more https://theconversation.com/blaming-the-worried-well-for-long-covid-testing-queues-wont-help-anxious-south-australians-this-will-150385

NEWS

New research suggests immunity to COVID is better than we first thought

Early in the pandemic, many researchers feared people who contracted COVID could be reinfected very quickly. This was because several earlystudies showed antibodies seemed to wane after the first few...

who is Antony Blinken, Biden's pick for secretary of state?

US Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken promises both awkwardness and opportunity for Australia’s Morrison government.Blinken could hardly represent a more striking contrast with his soon-to-be predecessor Mike Pompeo in his...

Think taxing electric vehicle use is a backward step? Here's why it's an important policy advance

The South Australian and Victorian governments have announced, and New South Wales is considering, road user charges on electric vehicles. This policy has drawn scorn from environmental advocates and...

what’s the best way to conduct Australia’s Great Koala Count?

ShutterstockFederal environment minister Sussan Ley this week announced A$2 million for a national audit of Australia’s koalas, as part of an A$18 million package to protect the vulnerable species.The funding...

Data from 45 countries show containing COVID vs saving the economy is a false dichotomy

ShutterstockThere is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis has incurred widespread economic costs. There is understandable concern that stronger measures against the virus, from social distancing to full lockdowns, worsen...

Mining companies are required to return quarried sites to their 'natural character'. But is that enough?

New Zealand has more than 1,100 registered quarries. Some of these mined sites are small, rural operations, but a significant number are large and complex, and within a city’s urban...

the fraught history of women and swearing in Australia

Kath and Kim (aka Jane Turner and Gina Riley): the suburban hornbags used swearing in clever ways in their 2002-2007 TV series.Riley Turner ProductionsWomen have had a fraught historical relationship...

From here on our recovery will need more than fiscal policy, it'll need redistribution

From the 1980s right through to the global financial crisis, the standard response in Australia and elsewhere to too weak or too strong an economy has been monetary policy —...

Forensic linguists can make or break a court case. So who are they and what do they do?

shutterstockIf you’re an avid viewer of crime shows, you’ve probably come across cases in which an expert, often a psychologist, is called in to help solve a crime using their...

Officials' engagement with China especially important in tense times: Morrison

Scott Morrison has encouraged federal public servants to engage with their Chinese counterparts, saying these are important connections particularly given the tensions in the bilateral relationship.Answering a question during a...

two views on increasing the super contribution

The increase in the compulsory superannuation contribution, legislated to rise next July from 9.5% to 10%, is being fiercely debated following the release of the retirement income report.In this podcast...

Victoria is boosting disability support in schools by A$1.6 billion. Here are 4 ways to make the most of it

ShutterstockThe Victorian government has announced an investment of nearly A$1.6 billion for public schools to ensure students with disability are supported in the classroom. The money will double the number...



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

Your New Home Needs A Great GardenHow To Identify Signs Of Stress In Your ChildInstalling Shade Sails On your Garden10 Tips for Clearing a Blocked DrainCarpet Cleaning: Where Is It Headed In The Future?Common Repairs to Shipping ContainersThe lifestyle Choices of the Australian Millennials5 Tips For Creating a Kid-Friendly BackyardWhat Happens When You Choose a Wrong Cosmetic Dentist Sydney?Garlic In Your Life: The Health Benefits and How To Grow Your Own GarlicPost-Coronavirus Camping - 5 Tips To Help You Have A Safe And Happy Camping TripEasy Ways to Stop Your Mechanic from Ripping You Off12 Helpful Tips to Increase Your Savings This SummerHow to Organize Your Kid’s Nursery On A Budget