COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) – A recent study authored by Texas A&M researchers shows roughly one-third of adults between ages 18 and 64 put off medical care during the earlier stages of the pandemic.
COVID-19 put major strains on the American healthcare system that extend far beyond directly battling the virus. Overcrowded hospitals and other factors caused many Americans to delay or forgo other medical procedures important to keeping them healthy.
A Texas A&M study looked at three different 13-day periods in the second half of 2020 (one in August, one in October, and one in December). Benjamin Ukert is an assistant professor of health policy and management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-authors.
“We can estimate that about 36 million have forgone care and about 50 million people have delayed care,” Ukert said.
When patients were asked why they made these decisions, researchers say poor health, mental health issues, and type of insurance were significant factors.
“We saw that women tended to be more likely to delay and forgo care than men,” Ukert said. “We saw that this was concentrated generally among people who had some difficulty or high levels of difficulty paying for usual household expenses. Older individuals, those who are 55 to 64, were more likely to have delayed care and forgone care compared to individuals who are younger.”
St. Joseph Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kia Parsi estimates their hospital has seen a roughly 10% reduction in care from these decisions over the entire two years of the pandemic. He says due to delays in regular care, they have seen patients with more severe diseases, and in some cases, they’ve progressed to stages where it’s too late to administer curative treatments.
“I think, in general, preventive measures such as screenings, chest x-rays, mammograms, colonoscopies, blood tests, many of these preventive type of evaluations have seemed to have a decrease, and that can lead to more severe cases,” Parsi said.
Parsi says at this point in time of the pandemic, St. Joseph Hospital has plenty of capacity for patients to make all their regular appointments and schedule procedures like elective surgeries.
“There shouldn’t be any reason right now to delay the care that you may have been planning on,” Parsi said. “The sooner people feel more comfortable to seeking their routine care that they had prior to COVID, the more likely we can prevent the aftereffects of delayed care.”
Researchers say it will still take another year or two before we know how these medical care decisions will have an effect on the healthcare system as a whole.
“This could also translate to changes in behavior in terms of labor force participation and other things that are ongoing, but it’s all a little bit more speculative on that end because data is only trickling in over time,” Ukert said.
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