A new report from the Pioneer Institute calls for public health officials to refocus their coronavirus efforts on routine screenings and healthcare as hospitals are bombarded with sick patients who put off appointments during the pandemic.
“By their failure to remind the population that they should nevertheless see their physicians for regular screenings, already during COVID, public health authorities may have helped to create another looming public health crisis,” wrote Dr. William Smith, Pioneer Institute visiting fellow, in his report.
The looming public health crisis Smith mentions is the meaningful reduction in screenings, diagnoses, and early treatment for serious conditions such as heart disease during the pandemic when everyone was ordered to stay at home.
Compared to 2018 and 2019, dominant care visits in the United States were down 21.4% during the second quarter of 2020, according to the report. During the same year, there were 691,000 deaths from heart disease and more than 600,000 from cancer, both of which can be treated early which leads to better outcomes.
Cholesterol screenings were down 36% during the pandemic and blood pressure evaluations dropped 50%, Smith noted, citing outside studies.
“Public health officials have ignored the need to make repeated calls to at-risk populations to visit the doctor and get important health screenings. In the absence of these prevention efforts, we are on the brink of a public health challenge, worsening patient outcomes, and additional healthcare costs,” Smith said.
Massachusetts hospitals are feeling the burden of crucial missed appointments and screenings.
Dr. Ron Walls, chief operating officer at Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest hospital network, said patients are now seeking care in “truly unheard of numbers.”
He said more patients are in need of care, and the patients who come in are often much sicker than usual because illnesses have worsened over time without medial attention.
Walls additional that high patient quantity is typical for a stretch of a associate days at a time, but now there are high numbers of patients needing care 24/7.
“We don’t see an end to this, this is going to go on for a long time,” Walls told the Herald.
To help ease the burden on the health care system, Walls said MGB has taken steps to add more beds in community hospitals, provide home care for patients, and improvement proposals to open up ambulatory care centers that people can access close to home without having to go to the hospital.
“The real challenge for us and everyone else across Massachusetts is that our capacity is limited and we need more capacity,” Walls said.
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