Australia’s IUD uptake rebounds following 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns

Rates of intrauterine device (IUD) insertion grew 12-18% in 2020-21 compared to pre-pandemic levels in Australia.

This could reflect a shift in women’s preferences towards longer-acting contraceptives, Griffith University researchers suggest.

IUDs are long-acting contraceptives (lasting five years or longer) placed inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of devices, hormonal and copper IUDs.

In Australia, procedures related to inserting and removing IUDs are mostly managed in primary care by GPs.

At the start of Australia’s national COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020 there was an expectation that medical services requiring face-to-face attendance, such as IUD insertion, would be negatively impacted.

Researchers at Griffith University analysed five years of Medicare data on IUD insertion rates per 100,000 people, as well as Google Trends data for the same period.

The research, published in Digital Health, shows an increasing trend in IUD use in Australia. It also shows a strong relationship between internet searches for medical information (in this case searches about IUDs), and health seeking behaviours.

The Medicare data from June 2017 to May 2022 shows rates of IUD insertion per 100,000 people, mainly covering IUD insertions in General Practice. The paper notes the data is likely to be an underestimate as it does not capture privately billed services or some IUD insertion in hospitals.

In addition to seasonal variation (there is a regular drop during summer), the data shows a clear drop in March 2020, coinciding with the start of a national COVID-19 lockdown. This followed by a noticeable increase in IUD insertion rates in following months and years.

The paper notes that further lockdowns did not seem to affect the rate of IUD use. Data for individual states and territories is being analysed separately.

The researchers also looked at monthly internet search trends from Google for ‘Progestin IUDs’ and ‘Intrauterine device’. While ‘Copper IUDs’ was part of the initial analysis, there were far fewer searches for this term.

Analysing the two sets of data – IUD insertion rates and Google search data – showed a moderately strong correlation between the two.

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Graph showing the uptake of IUDs and Google search data / Credit: Griffith University

The researchers say the results show the possible effects on other health or medical services from any nation-wide public health decision, like pandemic lockdowns.

The uptake of IUDs has been on the rise in Australia, doubling in the period between 2006 and 2018.

The growth might continue with the Government increasing rebates for the procedure from March 1. The rebate rose from $47.35 to $70.90 in non-hospital settings such as GP clinics, and from $41.80 to $62.55 in hospital settings on 1 March.

The ABC reported the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) called for the rebate to be raised to $150 to cover the costs of the procedure and the specialised training healthcare professionals need to be able to perform it.

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