Delayed Medical Care: The Pandemic’s Hidden Cost

Andrea Sears | Public News Service
Telehealth visits and "smart scheduling" office visits can help patients keep up with care while staying safe from COVID. Photo Credit: insta_photos/Adobe Stock

NEW YORK — Doctors warn delays of cancer screenings and preventive health care while sheltered in place during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to serious health consequences later.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows more than 3.7 million New Yorkers said they have delayed medical care because of the pandemic.

Dr. Steven Angelo, chief medical officer with UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement in New York and New Jersey, said delaying or foregoing care such as routine cancer screenings and annual physicals can increase the incidence of preventable and treatable illness.

“The National Cancer Institute predicted earlier this year that delayed screenings could lead to 10,000 additional deaths from breast and colorectal cancer alone over the next decade,” Angelo noted.

He urged patients to feel confident doctors’ offices are taking additional precautions to keep them safe and prevent the spread of infection during the pandemic.

Many doctors have instituted innovative practices such as “smart scheduling” that prevents crowded waiting rooms, or having patients wait for appointments in their cars. Angelo added keeping up with scheduled visits also can be done remotely.

“There’s things called wellness visits that are available for Medicare recipients,” Angelo suggested. “Telehealth is a way that you can actually continue to provide that sort of care through the safety of an audio-visual call.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people with obesity, diabetes, heart and lung disease are dying at higher rates because they are avoiding care out of fear of catching COVID in their doctor’s offices.

Angelo agreed that fear is perfectly understandable.

“But the fact is that those at greatest risk from COVID-19 are likely the ones who need to see their doctor the most,” Angelo countered. “So, I would highly encourage people to take advantage of all the safety measures that their physicians are taking in their practices.”