Associations of the COVID-19 pandemic with older individuals’ healthcare utilization and self-reported health status: a longitudinal analysis from Singapore


Background: The COVID–19 pandemic has challenged the capacity of healthcare systems around the world and can potentially compromise healthcare utilization and health outcomes among non-COVID–19 patients. Objectives: To examine the associations of the COVID-19 pandemic with healthcare utilization, out-of-pocket medical costs, and perceived health among middle-aged and older individuals in Singapore. Method: Utilizing data collected from a monthly panel survey, a difference-in-differences approach was used to characterize monthly changes of healthcare use and spending and estimate the probability of being diagnosed with a chronic condition and self-reported health status before and during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Subjects: Data were analyzed from 7569 nationally representative individuals from 2019 January and 2020 December. Measures: Healthcare utilization and healthcare spending by medical service categories as well as self-reported health status. Results: Between January and April 2020 (the first peak period of COVID-19 in Singapore), doctor visits decreased by 30%, and out-of-pocket medical spending decreased by 23%, mostly driven by reductions in inpatient and outpatient care. As a result, the probability of any diagnosis of chronic conditions decreased by 19% in April 2020. The decreased healthcare utilization and spending recovered after lifting the national lockdown in June, 2020 and remained similar to the pre-pandemic level through the rest of 2020. Conclusions: Middle-aged and older Singaporeans’ healthcare utilization and the diagnosis of chronic conditions substantially decreased during the first peak period of the COVID-19 outbreak. Further studies to track the longer-term health effect of the pandemic among non-COVID-19 patients are warranted.

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BMC Health Services Research