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Delayed Preventive Care: Worse Than COVID?

Feb 02, 2021 Decorative image

A colleague recently emailed the following to the Hylant Employee Benefits team:

I’m attending a health department briefing right now and learned that the ICU is not full of COVID patients. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are several patients (now a remarkable number) that are in the ICU because they delayed care in fear of contracting COVID-19. The hospitals are reporting that they have people who have ignored signs of heart conditions and even strokes for fear of COVID, and now their medical conditions are … grim.

According to the CDC, “an estimated 41% of U.S. adults … delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%). In addition, avoidance of urgent or emergency care was more prevalent among unpaid caregivers for adults, persons with underlying medical conditions, Black adults, Hispanic adults, young adults, and persons with disabilities.”

There is no question that COVID-19 has an immense impact on our healthcare system. The pandemic has also created many tough choices for people as they navigate their daily lives, including healthcare choices.

Many Are Skipping Care

When we looked at 2020 preventive care trends versus 2019, here are examples of what we saw:

  • Childhood immunizations were, on aggregate, down about 60 percent in mid-April in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Mammograms and pap smears were down nearly 80 percent in April 2020 compared to 2019, and in August were still down roughly 20 and 10 percent from 2019, respectively.
  • Colonoscopies were down almost 90% in mid-April 2020 compared to 2019. In August 2020, they were still down about 30% compared to the previous year, representing an incomplete rebound in this life-saving procedure.

The data reveals that many people are skipping critical care, which can have a negative impact on long-term health and well-being. Many of the 133 million Americans with chronic conditions are at risk right now for failing to receive the continued care and medication they need, due to income changes, canceled appointments or fear of contracting COVID-19.

Worse, people with undiagnosed or untreated chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are more vulnerable to COVID-19. According to Dr. Maria Ariza, M.D. at Edward-Elmhurst Health, physicians are finding that many of the coronavirus patients with the most severe symptoms have undiagnosed chronic medical conditions.

Don’t Forget About the Flu

The coronavirus isn’t the only public health concern during the winter months. Colder temperatures drive people indoors, which health experts warn leads to cases of influenza spreading more easily than during warmer summer months. According to the CDC, flu season peaks between December and February, typically leading to 140,000 to 180,000 hospitalizations per year.

With both COVID-19 and the flu this winter, there is added concern about stress to hospitals. It is more important than ever to encourage employees to get a flu vaccine.

Education Is Key

Is leaving home to go to a medical facility or the doctor for a preventive care visit worth the risk? Medical professionals believe it is, and education is the key to encouraging employees and their family members to take good care this year. Easy steps employers can implement include:

  • Urging routine screenings. We simply cannot stress enough how important this is to the health of your team members.
  • Reminding employees to use telehealth or virtual visit options whenever possible.
  • Suggesting that team members opt for drive-through or mail-order prescription options, to limit contact with others.
  • Asking employees to reach out if they need assistance with healthcare navigation or have questions about healthcare costs.
  • Encouraging team members to prioritize their health and reassuring them that your company supports their well-being

Questions? Reach out to your Hylant representative for more information about encouraging employees to seek appropriate. timely medical care and for communication resources we can provide to help you.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your employee benefits broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.

Author Maddison Bezdicek, Health Strategies Practice Leader, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice
Andria Herr, EVP Client Strategy, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice