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Did you put off routine healthcare during the pandemic? Have you been meaning to make an appointment to see your doctor, but just haven’t gotten around to it? If so, you’re not alone. The uncertainty and fear of coming into contact with the coronavirus when visiting a hospital or doctor’s office prevented a lot of people from getting the care they needed. Add to that the fact that routine physicals and preventive screenings were paused for a time during the pandemic and you have a lot of people who need to get back on track taking care of their health.
In a report by the Centers for Disease Control, Delay or Avoidance of Medical Care Because of COVID-19-Related Concerns, a survey taken in June 2020 found, “an estimated 41 percent of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care and routine care.” The report further states, “Medical care delay or avoidance might increase morbidity and mortality risk associated with treatable and preventable health conditions and might contribute to excess deaths.”
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With many of the pandemic restrictions lifted, now is the right time to resume your regular schedule of healthcare checkups, screenings, and other treatments.
Healthcare providers at Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) have seen a reduction in people who are staying current with their health. “We have had many patients come in who ran out of their blood pressure medication two to three months ago,” says Nardin Khalil, MD, family medicine physician with VHC Physician Group–Primary Care National Landing. “Others have diabetes and have not been monitoring their blood sugar as closely as they should. This is concerning—elevated blood pressure and high blood sugar levels can cause significant organ damage in that amount of time and you don’t even feel it.”
Hassan Tabandeh, MD, FACC, RPVI, VHC Physician Group-Cardiology, agrees. “A lot of our patients canceled appointments because of concerns over COVID-19, but cardiac symptoms are not something you can sit on. High blood pressure is a silent killer—people can feel great and are not even aware they have it. During the pandemic, there were a few instances of people who were having chest pain at home, but decided not to come to the Emergency Department and had tragic outcomes.”
While conditions such as a cough, cold, or flu symptoms can be effectively diagnosed and treated by Telehealth visits, “with cardiology it’s better to see the patient in person,” says Dr. Tabandeh. “I need to be able to listen for heart murmurs or congestive heart failure, check pulse rates, and oxygen levels, and run an EKG to make decisions about the best treatment for the patient.”
Maintaining healthy lifestyles is another area where people have been backsliding. “Much of this past year has been spent wearing soft clothes, sitting on the couch, and eating comfort food,” says Lisa Muras, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. “People didn’t always realize they were picking up bad habits. When you transition to different meetings or duties in an office, you may just have time to refill your water bottle. But at home, a lot of people transitioned to snacks between virtual meetings and calls.”
People with diabetes not only need regular monitoring of blood sugar and weight but also need to see other specialists including:
- Ophthalmologist for an annual dilated retinal exam
- Dentist to check for gingivitis, which can occur with increased glucose levels in saliva
- Podiatrist to check for diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
Vaccinations need to be kept up to date for kids, as well as adults. Some vaccines, such as HPV, Hepatitis B, and Shingles are given in a series. If you’ve missed getting a subsequent dose in the series, you don’t have to restart the series to be protected, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. So, do not delay getting back on top of finishing those vaccinations.
Probably the most important reason for getting back to a regular healthcare routine is to catch problems as early as possible through preventive screenings. “Some women already had heightened fear and anxiety of what might be found in a mammogram. The pandemic really exacerbated their fears and gave them more reason to delay their screenings,” says Shari Sitron, LCSW, LICSW, OSW-C, Director, Reva & Sid Dewberry Family Cancer Resource Center. The cancellation of screening mammograms in the early months of the pandemic coupled with this fear led to a significant drop in screening mammograms at VHC of nearly 20 percent from 2019 to 2020.
“Unfortunately, we are now seeing an increased number of women with metastatic breast cancer who need all three treatment modalities— surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – because their cancer is more advanced,” says Margaret Navarro, MSN, RN, BC, Breast Health Navigator. Earlier breast cancer diagnosis leads to better chances for curative treatment and survival.
One additional downstream impact that is delaying healthcare for some is the surge of people finally coming back to see their doctors, creating a backlog of appointments.
“At VHC, we are getting close to our pre-pandemic levels of screening mammograms per month, as more women schedule their screenings,” says Erin Noble, RT(R)(M)(BD), Manager, Women’s Imaging. “By expanding hours for weekday appointments starting at 6:45 a.m. and adding Saturday hours, we’re now able to book appointments at times that are convenient for our patients.”
“Fortunately, our primary care practice at National Landing is relatively new, and we have openings to see patients promptly for physicals, which can be scheduled easily online,” says Dr. Khalil.
While the pandemic put many things on hold, your health didn’t take time off. Make your health a priority and get back into a regular routine with your doctors and other healthcare providers.
Get caught up with your healthcare now, with a visit to Virginia Hospital Center. Click here to learn more and make an appointment.