As our communities continue to grapple with the impact of COVID-19, we may have another health crisis looming with patients delaying critical health screenings and essential care visits.
When the coronavirus first began to spread, healthcare organizations proactively rescheduled patient well-being appointments and non-critical procedures. They had little choice. Not only were facilities operating within local government stay-home ordinances, it was a necessary move to buy time, develop pandemic plans, source PPE and more.
And now, as providers have the green light to re-open their doors, many patients have yet to return. Some consumers are concerned with contracting the coronavirus at a medical facility and want to do their part to slow the spread. Others feel their health issue is not critical enough to warrant treatment. And many patients don’t want to burden the system when it is already dealing with so many challenges and, recently, resurges.
Regardless of these good intentions, delaying care—especially for extended periods of time—can have dire consequences. These include increased acuity, additional care requirements, invasive treatments, more expensive care or higher mortality rates.
What’s worse, many vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, very sick, poor or health illiterate, are more likely to defer care due to lack of resources (for example, they don’t have a device or internet connection to attend a telehealth visit), and therefore could be at even higher risk for poor outcomes.
During this time, it’s critical that patients—regardless of location, socio-economic status or any other factor—get the time-sensitive medical care and regular check-ups needed to stay healthy.
Screenings that detect treatable illnesses save thousands of lives each year. When left untreated, these illnesses cause serious disease or even death. A Washington Post analysis of federal data found thousands more people died in March, April and May of heart disease and a few other diseases than were expected in 2020.
According to Nebraska Medicine, issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can be detected and cared for through screenings. In addition, tests for breast, colon and cervical cancer help to spot abnormalities as early as possible, when treatment is most effective. Care for pre-existing conditions is also important, as well as mental health screenings and treatments.
As we go forward, care delays may again be necessary, but patients with emergency needs should always seek immediate treatment. Heart attacks and strokes are critical events and accessing timely care can be lifesaving and may minimize long-term effects.
Of course, healthcare organizations are working around the clock to enable care to continue and simultaneously prioritize patient wellbeing. Providers’ tireless efforts to implement safety precautions are working to reduce transmission in their facilities. These steps include modifying facilities for greater social distancing, using electronic check-in, requiring personal protective equipment and following strict CDC guidelines.
The Bottom Line
Deferred care could become the next health crisis if we don’t find creative ways to address delays. We strongly encourage our employees, families, community members and patients to prioritize their wellbeing, pay attention to changes in their health status, make every effort to reschedule well checks and seek care if needed.
Don’t let the fear of COVID-19 surpass your need to access healthcare services. While COVID-19 may change the way we all get care, it’s important that the care doesn’t stop. And this includes self-care.
Contact your physician for guidance to the best care option for your needs, whether it’s a video visit, at-home self-exam, phone call or an in-person appointment.