Although the days of routine healthcare appointments being cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions are long over, almost half of the nation’s workers deferred medical care and have not caught up.
A new survey from Willis Towers Watson, an international insurance advisor company, found that 40 percent put off care, including:
- 28 percent delaying or canceling a medical procedure or appointment.
- 17 percent failing to fill at least one prescription.
- 20 percent having their healthcare provider delay or cancel a procedure or appointment.
One third of those who had care deferred or canceled, either by their provider or themselves, reported their health suffered as a result.
“This was certainly the case earlier this year and pretty much all of last year, but seems to be slowly getting better,” reported Maryam Syed, DO, a family medicine doctor with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Westport.
Dr. Syed said a “good portion” of the practice’s patients delayed routine screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies. Many also fell behind on management of their high blood pressure and diabetes because they did not feel comfortable coming into the office, she added.
“For many, this led to a worsening of their chronic conditions which had been under good control. It does seem to be getting better slowly now but not completely back to normal,” Dr. Syed said.
“Putting off routine screenings such as mammograms, Pap smears and colonoscopies can lead to a delay in the potential diagnosis of cancer which can be very harmful to the patient,” Dr. Syed said. “Similarly, delaying diagnosis of chronic medical conditions can lead to worsening of those conditions which leads to an increase in morbidity and mortality for patients and an increase in the cost of healthcare for society as a whole,” she said.
In addition, as a result of office closures during the early months of the pandemic, she said many patients turned to telemedicine and want to continue using that form of appointments even now that vaccines and other factors have made in-person sessions safe again.
“Although telemedicine is a great way to take care of certain medical issues, even getting prescription refills, it is not a good substitute for in-office visits in many scenarios. It has been difficult getting that small subset of the population back into the office for in-person visits. I certainly believe that telemedicine is here to stay, but we may need to provide more education to our patients regarding on the appropriate use of it,” Dr. Syed explained.
With family, friends and her own patients, she said she listens to their COVID-related concerns about going into a medical office, but offers ways they can feel safe returning.
“I also try to have the conversation with them regarding the importance of follow-up for chronic conditions and preventative care to keep their health optimal. I find that listening to a person and addressing their concerns goes a long way in guiding them. Once their minds are at ease, they are more comfortable making the right decision,” Dr. Syed said.