Pandemic disruptions to medical care have life-threatening complications

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It’s time to accept the undeniable reality: Interruptions in medical care caused by COVID-19 have created life-threatening complications for patients throughout the United States. Overcrowded and short-staffed hospitals; postponements of routine care; as well as disruptions in preventative services such as cancer screenings and cardiac procedures have left our nation’s health systems reeling as they plan for the future. Health care providers are now asking how will they deal with so many individuals on the brink of experiencing a catastrophic health event?

As Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and president of the American Heart Association, noted in the Wall Street Journal, “We’re going to be living with the ripple effects and the echoes of this pandemic for a long time. We’re going to see not only more deaths in the ensuing years, we’ll see a lot more disease in people who are living.” 

While there are no numbers at present that fully convey the impact of deferred care, early predictions of what the future has in store are raising alarms; especially, in communities that were suffering from higher rates of health inequities prior to the compounding effects of the pandemic. A recent report estimated that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) alone will need an additional $23 billion to cover the coming surge of medical costs for our nation’s veterans. The report anticipates a significant increase in the number of more complicated and expensive medical care as veterans return to routine medical appointments.

If the anticipated impact of deferred care for veterans exceeds $23 billion, what can we expect the ultimate costs of deferred care to add up to for the 6-in-10 Americans who already live with at least one chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, cancer or diabetes? Whether these individuals voluntarily or non-voluntarily delayed their health care over the past two years, we know one thing to be true: Delaying care leads to worsening outcomes and, without intervention, these individuals will suffer.

Now is the time to act — before it is too late to improve patient outcomes. As a country, we are sitting on a deep untapped reservoir of data that is being collected separately by commercial, federal, state and local agencies according to their unique requirements and interests. We can no longer operate apart from one another if we want to close the gaps in patient care. It is going to require coordination on a national level. Our nation’s data must be accessed, analyzed and acted on for better outcomes for those who are most in need.

Fortunately, there is a solution. With a concerted effort to coordinate this invaluable data, millions of individuals will benefit from our expertise.  Acceptance and use of predictive models will enable health care organizations to evaluate risk and identify individuals who are most in need of medical services. We have the technologies, algorithms and experts to take on these challenges. Our country can solve this emerging crisis. The time to intervene is now for a better tomorrow. 

Gary Velasquez is the founder and CEO of Berkeley-based data-science company, Cogitativo.

Tags COVID-19 deferred care Gary Velasquez Healthcare Pandemic preventative care preventative treatment

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