Social distancing behaviors and transmission-reducing practices, such as wearing a mask, amid the Covid-19 outbreak have affected the incidence of other general diseases, government data showed.
Mask wearing and hand washing halved the number of patients with respiratory diseases such as cold, influenza, and pneumonia. Food poisoning, otitis media, and eye inflammation also fell to half. However, the number of people who sought medical help for depression increased slightly.
The National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) released how the Korean people’s medical service use between March and July this year has changed from the same period of 2016-2019.
About 8 million Korean people visited medical institutions due to respiratory diseases, such as cold, flu, and pneumonia, from March to July, a 51.9 percent drop from 16.7 million in the same period of last year.
From March to July, 1.67 million people needed medical treatment due to digestive and intestinal infections, such as bacterial intestinal infections that cause food poisoning. The number was down by 31.3 percent, compared to 2.43 million a year earlier.
By age, the disease decreased by 53.3 percent among infants and children aged six or less, and 37.9 percent down in children and adolescents aged between seven and 18.
The number of patients who used medical institutions for conjunctivitis stood at 2.25 million during the cited period, 18.1 percent lower than that of 2.74 million in the same period last year, showing the effect of handwashing in daily life, the NHIS said.
In contrast, patients with depression increased to 710,000 from March to July, up 7.1 percent from 660,000 a year earlier.
By age and gender, women aged between 19 and 44 showed the fastest increase, 21.6 percent, in depression. The growth pace was more than double the number of men in the same age group, which was up 11.2 percent.
“Due to the prolonged Covid-19, depression and stress-related diseases have picked up,” NHIS President Kim Yong-ik said. “It is necessary to review expanding depression counseling for age groups having difficulty in their economic activities.”
New patients with serious, chronic illness go down on fewer screenings
Patients with serious illnesses such as cancer and chronic diseases kept receiving medical care despite Covid-19, but the number of new patients declined due to fewer health checkups, the NHIS said.
The number of patients with cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cerebrovascular disease inched up this year, but it was a drop compared to the weighted average of the numbers between 2016 and 2019.
By disease, 1.07 million patients visited medical institutions due to cancer from March to July, up 1.6 percent compared to a year earlier. However, the number was 3.6 percent down, compared to the four-year weighted average reflecting the yearly changes from 2016 to 2019.
The number of patients with colon cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and cervical cancer also decreased by 2.5-6.8 percent year on year.
NHIS attributed the decrease in the number of new patients with serious illness and chronic diseases to the lower medical checkup for cancer.
From January to July, the number of new gastric cancer patients fell 11.7 percent on-year to 14,249.
The number of new hypertension patients also declined 2.9 percent to 370,000 over the cited period, and that of new diabetic patients fell 5.7 percent to 340,000.
NHIS said screenings for cancer and general health check-ups plunged by more than half between February and April compared to a year earlier, but the numbers have gradually recovered to the last year’s level since May.
“Fortunately, patients with serious illness and chronic disease could use medical services despite Covid-19, but the decrease of new patients is noteworthy,” Kim said. “Korean people should get assured to have their health checked, detect a disease early, and get timely treatment.”
Based on the statistical analysis, NHIS plans to identify the characteristics and problems of changes in the medical service use and prepare measures for the post-Covid-19 era, the agency said.
NHIS emphasized that its financial status was stable, moving within the expected range.
As of the end of June, the accumulated income recorded 34.67 trillion won ($30.62 billion), and the accrued expenditure, 35.95 trillion won. The current balance was a deficit of 1.28 trillion won, and the reserve, 16.49 trillion won.