CDC figures from June 2020 show that about 41% of adults had opted to delay visiting a medical provider. Now, 20-plus months later, care avoidance of common chronic and acute conditions has only worsened.
Just a few months into the pandemic, many people had begun putting their healthcare needs on hold. CDC figures from June 2020 show that about 41% of adults had opted to delay visiting a medical provider. Now, 20-plus months later, care avoidance of common chronic and acute conditions has only worsened.
Instead of getting physicals or checkups, people are putting them off. Why? The root causes are numerous. Many simply have decided that going to a doctor’s office or medical center isn’t worth the chance of potential exposure to a contagious disease. Some no longer have healthcare coverage after losing a job. Others don’t want to spend money on copays, especially with rising inflation.
The result of all these postponements is only now beginning to come to light, and it’s downright scary. Take expected mortality rates, for example. Life expectancy rates dropped by 1.5 years in 2020 alone. Though this was mostly due to pandemic-related deaths, healthcare avoidance could make matters worse. When people skip years of going to the doctor, they lose touch with their general health. They also put themselves at risk of late diagnosis of costly problems.
Cancer, for instance, is best identified and treated in its earliest stages. Waiting too long can put financial burdens on patients, their families, and the healthcare system. Plus, if everyone begins returning to the doctor after years of personal neglect, providers may experience additional burnout due to a sicker patient load. And the last thing healthcare workers need is more turnover.
What, then, are some answers to this issue? How can we ensure success and better experiences? Below are a few ways to untangle the knot and avoid a large portion of the population suffering needlessly down the road.
1. Healthcare entities can educate consumers.
Remember those widespread public education campaigns dedicated to prioritizing smoking cessation? Or ones designed to promote mental health awareness? Healthcare organizations and nonprofits with clout could engage in similar initiatives to get people back to their normal healthcare screening routines and fulfill the promise of their futures.
Such initiatives would require initial smaller financial investments today but could save untold dollars over the coming decades. Remember: Prevention is always cheaper than intervention. Stopping a heart attack from occurring is better for every part of the healthcare structure, from patient to insurance company.
2. Patients can learn innovative ways to make self-care a priority.
Patients may be hesitant to visit healthcare providers. Nonetheless, they can learn to perform self-examinations and even use wellness technology at home. There are plenty of technical innovations that enable consumers to track their vital signs. And if they notice issues, they can contact their primary care providers right away.
It’s not hard to envision a day when patients take more ownership of their health through technologies like apps. Society has adjusted fairly quickly to using applications such as Uber and DoorDash to meet their basic needs. Embracing the use of intuitively designed portable sensors and diagnostic devices doesn’t seem like such a stretch. There’s endless potential here.
3. Providers can remain open to telemedicine but encourage in-person visits.
The rise of telehealth has opened doors and closed gaps when it comes to healthcare. However, telemedicine isn’t the right fit for all patient needs. Patients and their doctors should work together to figure out when remote treatment makes sense versus when an office check-in may be more practical.
Tailoring the patient-provider relationship will take time. Yet it can help providers encourage reluctant patients to come back. The longer patients backburner their wellness visits, the higher the chance that they’ll become accustomed to this unhealthy practice. If doctors and other providers assertively step in now, they can stave off a host of problems in the years to come.
COVID’s prevalence in our lives requires flexible thinking. We can’t put off routine healthcare maintenance forever. Thankfully, it’s not impossible to solve problems without a clear solution. Action is key. Now is the time to identify, architect, and develop a solution to address the delay of routine healthcare maintenance among adults and families. Otherwise, it will become a “pay now or pay later” situation — and the eventual price will be far too unpalatable.
Marc Helberg is the managing vice president at the Philadelphia office of Pariveda, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented, and people-first solutions.