09 April 2020
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New COVID-19 guidelines for healthcare workers reveals giving patients the current gold standard care that’s grounded in science will help save thousands of lives.

The clinical guidelines by Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) infectious diseases experts provides step-by-step advice on how to diagnose, assess, manage and treat patients.

Professor Benjamin Cowie, one of the physicians in the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service (VIDS) at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said COVID-19 was causing the greatest pandemic in a century.

“Our health system will clearly be challenged by this; our workforce is going to be dealing with this for months to come,” Prof Cowie said.

“We wanted this to be a guide that every person in the healthcare system in Australia could access, including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.”

The guide, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, warns against the use of therapies being considered as potential treatments unless more evidence comes to light, or being administered as part of clinical trials for the management of COVID-19.

Drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, such as hydroxychloroquine, have gained support as potential treatments from high profile public figures. There have also been reports of some doctors using them preventatively.

Prof Cowie, who is also Co-Head of Public Health at the Doherty Institute, said there was not yet any good clinical evidence these therapies provided patients with any benefits and they may cause harm.

“It’s also making it hard for patients with rheumatological conditions who rely on these medications to access them.

Prof Cowie said research into diagnostic tests, effective treatments and vaccines was being fast-tracked.

Until they were available, the best way to deal with the global pandemic was to ensure we continue public health measures, such as: social distancing, isolation and quarantine, and to scale up high quality, evidence-based care.

“These measures will save the lives of thousands in Australia, and millions globally,” Prof Cowie said.

GPs would play a key role in not only identifying COVID-19 patients, but also determining who could be safely managed in the community.

“Ensuring that only patients at risk of, or showing signs of deterioration, are referred to hospital will help stop the health system from becoming overwhelmed,” he said.

The global pandemic may be causing vulnerable members of the community, those with pre-existing conditions, co-morbidities and older people, to feel fearful and anxious. Healthcare workers will also be under substantial strain and face new challenges delivering care to patients.

“We are all in this together and everybody has their part to play to helping us overcome it,” Prof Cowie said.

“Even though we must be socially or physically distanced, now more than ever we need to be connected as a community; providing emotional care for the vulnerable, and supporting frontline workers experiencing high stress levels.

“We are also asking the public to continue to play their part: by adhering to the public health measures being asked of them to make sure the health system is not overwhelmed and that we can be there for all patients when they need it.”

The COVID-19 clinical guidelines are the first to be published in an Australian journal. Read more in the MJA: https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2020/clinical-presentation-and-management-covid-19

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