Time to look at both sides of the medical ledger

A doctor explains test results to patient
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With one of us serving as a practicing surgeon and the other’s life being saved due to an accidental and unexpected medical diagnosis and prompt cancer treatment, we can both personally attest to the importance of regular checkups and treatments.

This is why we are both extremely concerned with the potential loss of life related to Americans being denied routine medical care or skipping doctor visits due to the coronavirus.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned the importance of keeping surfaces sanitized, wearing masks and social distancing. At this point, these practices have become almost second nature to most Americans.

The purpose of “flattening the curve” was to not only save lives, but to help hospitals prepare for a possible surge of coronavirus cases. Thus far, this strategy has been largely successful on the national and local levels. However, these successes may have resulted in some unintended consequences.

Hospitals and clinics across the nation are postponing routine visits, treatments and elective procedures to ramp up for possible coronavirus surges and save personal protective equipment. As compared with normal circumstances, North Carolina’s surgeons are not seeing nearly the number of new cancer diagnoses or follow up visits. And on the average day, thousands of patients roam the halls of southern Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. For many weeks, the Clinic and Minnesota’s fine rural hospitals have been virtual ghost towns.

It is not like these malignancies are suddenly taking a hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. In reality, those patients are simply not being diagnosed or treated. It is absolutely vital that as we concentrate all our energies on combating this new foe, we do not neglect the long-fought battle against other lethal diseases.

Rep. Hagedorn’s medical case is illustrative. Jim was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer during a routine examination in 2019. While completely unaware of his illness, Jim’s health was at a tipping point. Had Rep. Hagedorn’s medical appointment and diagnosis been delayed for one or more months, it is conceivable he would not be alive today.

Our medical providers have sacrificed an enormous amount to prepare for and combat this virus. And to be clear, our doctors, nurses, technicians, hospital staff and first responders are doing extraordinary, heroic work.

However, we must take a more explorative look at both sides of the medical care ledger – those on the coronavirus side and all other possible patients. We must consider the cost in lives of the current strategy and work even harder to effectively treat and save all Americans in need of timely, quality care.

So now, as we begin exploring ways to start the path back to life as we once knew it, we should encourage patients to refocus on their overall health. For example, untreated hypertension is the number No. 1 for suffering a stroke, ignoring mental health issues can lead to suicide and domestic violence, and even short delays in cancer diagnoses often tragically lead to death.

With those facts in mind, we urge patients, still respecting all we have learned about COVID-19, to take steps to ensure safety from the virus as well as seek routine medical care and treatment for potentially underlying health issues.

Our nation has been tremendously stressed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our medical community has proved heroic in meeting the challenge. Let us all remember that the public health of our nation is a battle that has many fronts. We must attend to all of them.

Lastly, if you are not feeling well or something seems amiss, please call your doctor and seek medical attention. Prompt action could save your life.

Jim Hagedorn, who is battling stage-four kidney cancer, and Greg Murphy, M.D., a practicing urologist, represent Minnesota’s 1st and North Carolina’s 3rd Districts, respectively, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Jim Hagedorn

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