Story at a glance
- Doctors are seeing an uptick in appointments as vaccination rates continue to rise.
- One-third of U.S. adults delayed medical care due to the pandemic.
- Health care workers are now seeing an influx in advanced cases of illnesses and ailments.
While the coronavirus raged throughout the world over the past year — monopolizing medical care amid soaring cases — many found themselves reluctant to even attempt to seek care for other medical ailments, frightened that they could be exposed to the virus. Now, doctors are seeing the effects of these delays.
As more people become vaccinated they are becoming more comfortable entering health care settings, leading to providers seeing an uptick in appointments. But due to delays in preventive and emergency care, providers are also seeing an uptick in advanced illnesses and ailments.
“All of a sudden we were downplaying health measures that are usually high-priority, such as trying to prevent diseases like cancer, to manage the pandemic,” said Fola May, a gastroenterologist and health equity researcher at UCLA Health.
Citing an 80 to 90 percent drop in colonoscopies done at the health system at the beginning of the pandemic, May worries about the potential fallout of a procedure that is key to the early diagnosis of diseases such as colon and bowel cancer.
Similarly, J.P. Valin, executive vice president of SCL Health of Colorado and Montana, says drops in people receiving mammograms — leading to heightened risks of late-stage breast cancers — keep him “awake at night.”
“People put off routine breast examinations and there are going to be some cancers hiding that are not going to be identified, potentially delaying intervention,” he told The Washington Post.
Yvette Lowery’s annual mammogram was canceled in March 2020 due to the pandemic. In August, she found a lump under her arm near her breast. She was unable to get an appointment until October, when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
"I've been seeing a lot of patients at an advanced stage," Kashyap Patel, CEO of Carolina Blood and Cancer Care Associates and one of Lowery’s doctors, told Advisory Board.
And physical examinations and testing aren’t the only forms of care that were delayed. A survey by the American Dental Association reported more than 70 percent of its member dentists seeing an influx in patients grinding and clenching their teeth due to stress from the pandemic, some resulting in needs for dental implants and night mouth guards.
Physical therapists are increasingly treating people with pain and injuries from time spent sitting and working from home, according to The Washington Post.
Doctors won’t know the full extent and consequences of the delays for months until more patients are seen and data becomes available.
But the delays have been widespread. More than one-third of U.S. adults say they have delayed or forgone medical care due to the pandemic. As the vaccination rate grows, doctors hope to continue to see more patients scheduling tests and checkups, but they still worry about what they will find from the delays.
“Although we have seen an improvement over the past six weeks, it’s still not much,” Neville Gupta, administrator at Gupta Gastro in New York, told The Washington Post. “Our patients are still avoiding getting the care they need, no matter the safety precautions in place.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW