The impact of COVID-19 on routine patient care from a laboratory perspective

Kruger, E. C. ; Banderker, R. ; Erasmus, R. T. ; Zemlin, A. E. (2020)


Background. Globally, few studies have examined the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on routine patient care and follow-up. Objectives. To evaluate the effect of the COVID-19 response on biochemical test requests received from outpatient departments (OPDs) and peripheral clinics serviced by the National Health Laboratory Service Chemical Pathology Laboratory at Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa (SA). Request volumes were used as a measure of the routine care of patients, as clinical information was not readily available. Methods. A retrospective audit was conducted. The numbers of requests received from OPDs and peripheral clinics for creatinine, glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), lipid profiles, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), free thyroxine, free tri-iodothyronine (fT3), serum and urine protein electrophoresis, serum free light chains and neonatal total serum bilirubin were obtained from 1 March to 30 June for 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Results. The biggest impact was seen on lipids, creatinine, HbA1c, TSH and fT3. The percentage reduction between 1 March and 30 June 2019 and between 1 March and 30 June 2020 was 59% for lipids, 64% for creatinine and HbA1c, 80% for TSH and 81% for fT3. There was a noteworthy decrease in overall analyte testing from March to April 2020, coinciding with initiation of level 5 lockdown. Although an increase in testing was observed during June 2020, the number of requests was still lower than in June 2019. Conclusions. This study, focusing on the short-term consequences of the SA response to the COVID-19 pandemic, found that routine follow-up of patients with communicable and non-communicable diseases was affected. Future studies are necessary to evaluate the long-term consequences of the pandemic for these patient groups.

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