The research work of four graduating students from Griffith University gained them a student medical research award.

Dr Sarah D’Arcy, Dr Chester Cao, Dr Steve Ahn, and Dr Victoria Allan along with their supervisor Associate Professor Alireza Ahmadvand investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns affected rates of long-acting reversible contraception utilisation.

The study determined that even though IUD insertion rates were generally on the rise in Australia over the past few years, there was a significant increase in IUD insertion rates early into the pandemic, after a short period of sharp decline.

Using Medicare data, the team found average rates of intrauterine device insertion (Mirena and Kyleena) increased by 12-18% from 2018-19 to 2020-21, with the highest monthly insertion rate seen in March 2021 (37 per 100,000 population).

Using Google Trends data, the team also found that early in the pandemic, by June 2020, Googling about intrauterine device-related topics increased dramatically by more than 50%.

The students (now doctors) then applied and were accepted to present their preliminary results at the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners — Queensland (RACGP QLD) 62nd Clinical Update Weekend Research Plenary and won the prestigious Medical Student Research Medal Prize.

With the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupting access to primary care in Australia, co-author Dr Victoria Allan suggested this may have impacted reproductive health services rates and interest in intrauterine devices by searching on Google.

Dr Victoria Allan

Dr Victoria Allan

“As COVID-19 cases increased exponentially worldwide, health systems dramatically reduced, with elective medical services largely postponed or replaced with telehealth-based alternatives,” she said.

“People were scared of getting COVID.

“They were scared of going into public places and not really wanting to go to the doctors so personally, I think that’s probably a huge factor into why they were seeking information online and wanting longer term solutions – so they didn’t have to make appointments for prescriptions or go to a chemist.

“A lot of people were only going to the doctors for essential services and access to short term contraceptives became more difficult.

“They were looking at long term factors of ‘what do I need to do to prevent something from happening now when I don’t want to go into the hospital, have a baby, or have to go to the emergency department’.

The research has been published as “Trends of intrauterine device insertion and ‘Googling’ about intrauterine devices before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia” in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Digital Health.