Time’s up — docs urge patients to stop delaying medical care
If you've fallen behind on routine doctor visits since the start of the pandemic, you're not alone.
But health professionals say this disturbing trend needs to end now, as preventive care has been taking a back seat for far too long.
According to a CDC survey, approximately 41% of U.S. adults delayed or avoided medical care during the pandemic because of concerns about COVID-19.
"We need to reverse that," said Donna Christensen, a board member with Consumers for Quality Care, during a Wednesday morning webinar about the importance of preventive care.
More recently, in an annual health care poll from Gallup, 38% of Americans said they or a family member skipped medical care in 2022.
"Screening test rates took a huge dip through the first two years of the pandemic," added Peter Fisher, medical director with the East region of Quest Diagnostics. "It's estimated that more than 25 million screening tests that would have normally taken place over that period just didn't happen."
As a result, Fisher said, diagnoses for serious diseases such as diabetes and cancer have been delayed.
It's not only on patients to reverse the diminishing rate of preventive care visits, though, Fisher said. In general, pandemic or not, making appointments requires planning, effort, and expense — and all of that is discouraging for the average patient.
"We need to offer rapid, easy access to schedule appointments, or even not having appointments at all. Just walk in," Fisher said.
Also, Fisher said, there should be more of an effort to offer alternatives for certain procedures, or improve access to certain tests by making them available at health fairs or through employers.
"We need to educate and effectively communicate, and we need to make screenings simple, accessible and affordable," Fisher said.
Dr. Mary Campagnolo, a family physician in Burlington County, said her office has been taking a number of steps to ensure that older patients are receiving the routine medical care they deserve. Medicare offers yearly wellness visits at no charge.
"Then, in that visit, we can go over the various gaps that the patients might have in their preventive needs," Campagnolo said.
Her patients also have an opportunity to access their own charts online, to see what they may be missing.