We have heard over and over about the dangers of the virus crisis. COVID-19 is still not over. While there may be a debate about the impact of the current and future waves of coronavirus infections, there is one significant issue that is getting less attention. Too many American’s are ignoring other health problems and not addressing them.
Speaking at a virtual Milken Institute conference, Garth Graham, vice president of community health at CVS Health, said the delay of health care due to COVID-19 concerns will become a big concern.
“There’s a huge, massive wave coming up behind us because people have delayed vital care in terms of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease,” Graham said.
Many Health Problems Ignored
Even common health symptoms are getting overlooked by many people due to COVID-19 concerns. Health problems that we would have sought medical treatment for in the past have been ignored or even unavailable during the virus crisis.
“People are ignoring serious things like chest pain and appendicitis that can be treated early and safely,” said Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association.
The use of Emergency Rooms has dropped dramatically. ER visits were down 42% in April 2020 compared to April of 2019, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Hospital Use Down During Virus Crisis
The Washington Post analysis of hospital use shows a significant drop in those seeking in-person health care nationwide. Some counties have shown a 50% drop-off or more compared with last year. Nearly 100 million people have delayed health care over the past three months, according to the report.
Many insurance companies are now paying for virtual medical appointments. The usage of telemedicine has exploded during the crisis. While this does not replace an in-person exam, it can be helpful compared to ignoring or putting off health care.
Tele-medicine can work well for some situations, according to Dr. Jonathan Weiner, chair of primary care at Cedars-Sinai.
"Doctors can do routine health checks and monitor certain chronic problems, such as well-controlled diabetes, with a virtual appointment."
Dr. Weiner says other types of illnesses are best handled in the office. Issues like poorly controlled diabetes, high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, and mental illness require in-person visits to a health care professional.
Additional Deaths Expected Due to Delayed Health Care
A National Cancer Institute suggested there could be an additional 10,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next decade — thanks to virus crisis-related delays in diagnosing and treating these tumors.
"The longer people go without getting treatment for chronic diseases, the more these deaths are going to build up," said Brooks Tingle, CEO of John Hancock Insurance, a Boston-based life insurance company.
Death is not the only concern. Chronic health issues also lead to long-term care. The delay or avoidance of health care is expected to accelerate when people require long-term care services.
Experts say social distancing doesn't mean ignoring and avoid health care. Medical clinics and doctor's offices have taken precautions to ensure a visit to the doctor is safe.
Making Health Care Facilities Safe
At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, they have made visiting the doctor as safe as possible. Patients are screened for COVID-19 symptoms as they arrive. Your temperature is taken to see if a person has an active fever. Everyone must wear a mask; this includes visitors and personnel. Waiting rooms are laid out for social distancing. Exam rooms are disinfected between patients.
DuPage Medical Group, a major multi-physician Group in the Chicago suburbs, uses a rigorous screening process that ensures that patients who are experiencing COVID-19-like or respiratory illness symptoms are seen at separate clinic locations from those who have other health care needs.
The bottom line is not to ignore health concerns. Take the proper COVID-19 precautions. Be proactive. Avoid a crisis by planning ahead and seeking health care when you need it before it becomes a crisis.