During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have delayed getting medical care for other conditions. Diseases won’t always go away just because you won’t go to the doctor. But is it safe to go back?
Several large health-care organizations think so—or at least they want to make sure the whole U.S. medical business doesn’t tank. A group that includes Humana, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Lab Corp and McKesson Corp has run ads urging people to go back to the doctor. The slogan for the new campaign is, “Stay six feet away from others, stay close with your doctor.” Other medical organizations have run similar campaigns.
Americans have delayed treatment even for urgently needed care, like heart attacks and cancer treatments. This may seem to make sense to older people or those with chronic health conditions, who are at greater risk of getting worse symptoms if they contract COVID-19. But even healthy people have been are reluctant to go to the doctor, for a variety of reasons.
Public service announcements and virtue-signaling commercials are telling people to social distance and to stay home. Surges in the virus in southern and western states have added to anxieties. Families where the primary earner is now out of a job could be avoiding the doctor because they don’t have the money to pay for a doctor’s visit or don’t have health insurance coverage.
Emergency-room trips for heart-related issues have declined since the start of the pandemic. That drop in visits might partly explain an increase in deaths not caused by COVID-19. A survey from late June found that 56% of doctors reported worsened health conditions among their patients who didn’t get appropriate health care. Not getting timely treatment for a medical condition can lead to costlier healthcare later.
Faced with lower demand, business owners may lay off medical workers and may not be able to pay rents and insurance. The reduction in appointments already has led to reduced demand for tests and prescription drugs, which has taken a financial toll on primary-care practices.
One group may be happy, at least for a while: insurers. Claims are fewer. But this happiness won’t last if too many people lose their insurance after they lose their jobs.
Using telehealth services could work for some people, but this could be same type of trap we are seeing with colleges. The temptation to substitute lesser care for a not-much-lower price will be high, especially if doctors need to keep paying overhead.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.