Longer recoveries, more intensive surgeries, and higher costs can all be avoided.
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that during coronavirus, 48% of Americans delayed seeking care for their medical conditions. Of those, 11% said their condition worsened as a result. Staying home was the best way to flatten the curve, but for some people it came at a cost. Doctors are only now beginning to see patients with injuries, symptoms, or chronic conditions that should have been evaluated and treated months ago.
Trust Your Instincts
If something feels wrong, you should seek help. Take Deborah Cohen’s advice. For the Ossining, New York, resident, getting up and down the stairs to her second-floor apartment had become overwhelming and difficult. “I was dizzy, my head was so heavy, and my legs felt like lead,” she says.
When the symptoms worsened, she relented, and was rushed by ambulance to White Plains Hospital’s Emergency Department. After testing negative for COVID-19, she was escorted to a separate, protected area of the ED for further evaluation and treatment for anemia, an easily treatable condition in which the blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells, often managed with supplements and medications. The staff was just “fantastic,” Cohen says.
“They just gave me such peace of mind,” she adds, now walking up and down those steps with ease. “I realized my symptoms were more important than my fear. It was the best thing I could have done.”
Seek Help Before It’s Too Late
Luckily, Cohen’s condition was not critical. Physicians fear that coronavirus fears have spooked some people into ignoring even life-threatening conditions, based on reports that the number of heart attacks appeared to decrease by 45% and the number of strokes by 38%. When it comes to urgent problems involving the heart and circulatory system, “time is brain.” The sooner you get help, the greater the odds that disability (and death) can be prevented.
Even seemingly non-critical conditions like a fracture require immediate medical evaluation. At White Plains Hospital, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Gott is now seeing patients for follow-up for broken bones sustained just before shutdown measures were put into place. “Now the fractures are two months to 10 weeks old, and they require a more complicated, more difficult treatment,” he says. “Some fractures need immediate surgery, and opting to do this sooner is better because it’s easier to move bones back into place when they are freshly broken.”
Delaying a procedure to realign the bones can lead to malunion or improper healing. “This occurs when the fracture starts to heal in a wrong or misaligned position, leading to significant disability if not corrected to return to a normal range of motion,” explains Dr. Gott. “It often requires a more intensive surgery that may include an osteotomy, or a re-breaking of the bones.”
Schedule a Screening
Dr. Deborah Nunziato-Ghobashy, a family medicine provider at Scarsdale Medical Group, says you should not just go to the doctor if you are ill; it is imperative for patients to get back on track with routine screenings and exams, especially annual physicals, mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies. “The purpose of the physical is to look for any possible underlying medical conditions that may have so far gone undetected,” Dr. Nunziato-Ghobashy says. “These procedures are helpful in detecting diseases at their early stages when they can be treated and potentially cured, rather than delayed diagnosis leading to a worse prognosis and even increased chance of dying.”
In fact, according to the electronic medical records vendor Epic, breast and cervical cancer screenings fell by 94% in March compared to the previous two-year national averages. Colon cancer screenings dropped by 86%. This can be dangerous as the benefits to early detection are immense. In one study, which evaluated more than 52,000 Swedish women over 57 years, women who got regular breast cancer screenings had a 60% lower risk of death within 10 years following a diagnosis of breast cancer, and a 47% lower risk within 20 years.
Your health is the most essential priority of all. Getting the care you need, right now, is the best way to stay safe, be well, and enjoy the summer months ahead.