When everything shut down in March, many patients—even those with emergencies, such as stroke symptoms or chest pain—avoided hospitals and clinics. This, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, potentially could prove fatal.
The study found that emergency room visits nationwide fell 42 in April compared with the same period in 2019. A different poll for the American Heart Association found about 1 in 4 adults experiencing a heart attack or stroke preferred to stay home rather than risk getting infected with coronavirus at the hospital. These concerns are higher in Black and Hispanic populations, with good reason: Black and brown people have borne the brunt of COVID-19.
But more concerning than the lack of emergency care is the drastic drop in routine screenings, especially in regions hardest hit by the virus. Medical research company IQVIA created models that predict delayed diagnoses of an estimated 36,000 breast cancers and 19,000 colorectal cancers due to COVID-19’s interruption of medical care.
But missed cancer diagnoses aren’t the only problem. Other consequences of delayed health care? Folks with chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease, respiratory ailments, depression and more will likely experience slow deterioration. Knowing these outcomes, however, hasn’t increased doctor visits. Our research found folks have skipped myriad doctor appointments, sometimes suffering in silence, since the pandemic began. Read about these delayed health care experiences:
“I had a polyp removed from my uterus in February. Since then, I’ve not had a period. Instead, I have horrible horrible pain. It hurts to sit up. And my doctor left his practice so I need a new doctor, but I am dragging my feet getting one because it takes ages, and I’m scared to go into an office.” —Xan Sprouse, Columbus, Ohio
“I’ve been putting off rescheduling a periodontal procedure originally scheduled for late March. Technically, I did reschedule it for July. But then I read stories of new PPE shortages and so cancelled the appointment. No idea when I might do it.” —David Conger, Sterling, Virginia
“I delayed medical upkeep in large part because of the pandemic. I’m 70 years old, clinically obese, and have sleep apnea as well as glaucoma and migraines. I just plain skipped annual appointments for the sleep and headache clinics. They were willing to renew prescriptions for me, since they were running limited hours.” —Pam Sowers, Olympia, Washington
“I’ve put off a gastrointestinal appointment for Crohn’s. The amount of lab work makes me uncomfortable.” —Alysha Cobb, Tampa, Florida
“I need to go to an ophthalmologist because I think retina thinning has gotten worse. But anxious about that. Also stopped regular acupuncture, which helps me with [fibromyalgia] pain.” —Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“In January, I had stroke-like symptoms, numbness in my left arm. After an overnight hospital stay, doctors determined my issue was a bone spur on my upper spine. Four weeks of physical therapy and some medication cured me. I just postponed my follow-up checkup just in case. My rescheduled appointment is in October and it probably will be virtual.” —Wayne Dawkins, Suffolk, Virginia