Missing Care Due to COVID-19

When analyzing health care expenditures, it has been well-recognized that many patients/families cut back on both necessary and unnecessary care when faced with increased costs; that is, individuals are not very good at selecting care that is truly essential.  This is one reason why many health care policy advisors are opposed to  high copays and deductibles as a way of reducing health care costs.

I have seen the same type of problem amidst the pandemic.  Due to fears of contracting SARS-CoV-2 (rather than mainly cost), individuals/families are deferring routine medical care.  This is leading to delays in diagnosis of many serious illnesses and missing opportunities to prevent illnesses (eg. vaccines).  A recent study has shown some of the impact with regard to cancer that happened early in the pandemic (and may be ongoing).

HW Kaufman et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(8):e2017267. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.17267. Full text: Changes in the Number of US Patients With Newly Identified Cancer Before and During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic

Introduction/Background:  In this study, we analyzed weekly changes in the number of patients with newly identified cancer before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: This cross-sectional study included patients across the United States who received testing for any cause by Quest Diagnostic; data was compared between baseline period (January 6, 2019, to February 29, 2020) and the COVID-19 period (March 1 to April 18, 2020). n=278 778 patients. Study evaluated  breast cancer,  colorectal cancer, lung cancer,  pancreatic cancer, gastric cancer, and esophageal cancer.

Key findings:

  • During the pandemic period, the weekly number fell 46.4% (from 4310 to 2310) for the 6 cancers combined, with significant declines in all cancer types, ranging from 24.7% for pancreatic cancer (from 271 to 204; P = .01) to 51.8% for breast cancer (from 2208 to 1064; P < .001)

The authors noted a similar problem has been reported with cardiovascular disease.  A study from 9 high-volume US cardiac catheterization laboratories found a 38% decrease in patients treated for ST-elevation myocardial infarction, considered a life-threatening condition.

My take: It is difficult to calculate the actual toll of this pandemic which includes a great deal of secondary problems: delays in diagnosis of life-threatening conditions, mental health/suicides, death from poverty, setbacks in the opioid crisis & overdose deaths, and enormous setbacks in global health projects.

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