The pandemic has disrupted medical routines and patients are risking the consequences of ignoring non-COVID tests and procedures. Dr. Baldeep Singh has this Perspective.
When COVID rates started to fall earlier this year, Juanita came to my office for her routine annual exam. A year ago, I had sent her for a breast biopsy after an abnormal mammogram, but despite follow-up reminders from us, she declined to go in for this procedure. She told me at this recent visit that she had felt more scared of getting COVID in the hospital, than of delaying her test. After her visit she finally went for her biopsy, but I recently learned that she likely has a more advanced stage of breast cancer.
In fact, since COVID began, Americans have missed more than 9 million screens for breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, according to some studies, possibly leading to an additional 10,000 deaths from delayed diagnosis. This worrisome drop in cancer screenings to below pre-pandemic rates could reverse the US streak of improved cancer mortality that has lasted for years.
We have seen similar trends with poorer outcomes for diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular care, likely due in part to fewer screenings and follow-up visits during COVID. In general, early screening saves lives, particularly when it comes to cancer prevention because we can pick up cancers at an early more treatable stage.
As Juanita’s primary care provider, learning of her news felt defeating. Health systems and providers will need to use every possible tool in our arsenals to encourage screening and treatment for patients who may have delayed (and continue to delay) preventive and routine care.