Time to schedule preventative health appointments

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Have you put off scheduling well health visits, testing, or procedures? You are not alone, and that has many doctors concerned. The fear of COVID-19 exposure kept many people at home, including away from medical facilities. Many are reluctant to schedule appointments as we continue to hear about virus variants and immunization breakthroughs. Those especially vulnerable to COVID, such as elderly or health-compromised patients, continue to be nervous about going to the hospital or doctor’s office even when immunized. This fear, however, may result in what could be a more extensive and, importantly, an avoidable health problem. 

Delays in healthcare appointments can result in the deterioration of health conditions. Many people have postponed elective surgeries during the pandemic, canceled preventative care screening testing such as mammograms, colonoscopies, dental work, blood work, and well checkups. There is a significant concern among healthcare professionals that there will be an uptick in cancers, heart disease, and other conditions post-pandemic. 

Patients at high risk for cancer or other diseases might be diagnosed later than if they had gotten preventative care sooner. Detecting cancer, blood pressure, heart issues, eye pressure, or cervical dysplasia at early stages often means years of health added to your life. Heightened safety in medical offices and hospitals, immunizations, and safe practices make it wiser to keep up with healthcare appointments and screenings. Risk of complications from an untreated or undetected health issue is more significant than your risk of contracting COVID-19, especially if you are immunized. Discuss your apprehensions with your doctor, who can weigh the pros and cons in your specific health situation.

Using telehealth and remote services is one way to receive care without fear of exposure. Once a doctor makes a diagnosis online, they can either treat you or assure you of the COVID-19 safety protocols in their office, so that care is not delayed.

An interesting new report finds that more women than men avoided going to the doctor during the pandemic—even when they were in poor health. It also highlights that fear of getting the virus is not the only factor contributing to the gap. Simply finding time to schedule is hard to do.

While healthcare professionals are worried about women delaying care, they understand that many women have had added responsibilities during the pandemic. Women have had increased responsibility caring for family members, schooling for children, and care of older family members. Finding time for their own health has suffered as a result. 

Previous research established that appointments for preventive health care services plummeted at the start of the pandemic. According to the Healthcare Cost Institute, childhood vaccinations were down roughly 60 percent in mid-April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The number of mammograms and pap smears conducted fell by nearly 80 percent, and colonoscopies declined almost 90 percent. Women were not only less likely than men to go to their annual physicals—but they also skipped medical appointments when they weren’t feeling well. About 32 percent of women reported missing tests or treatments that their doctors had recommended.

Some women delayed mammograms following their COVID immunization because of reports of patients developing swollen lymph nodes after a vaccination. This raised the question of rescheduling mammograms because of concerns that this finding could be mistaken for a potential breast cancer diagnosis.

Indeed, vaccines that prevent COVID-19 can sometimes cause swollen lymph nodes under the arm where the shot was given. Your lymph nodes are part of your body’s germ-fighting immune system. The swelling in the lymph nodes is a sign that your body is responding to the vaccine and building up defenses against the virus. Current advice is not to postpone your mammogram; instead, let your mammogram technologist know that you’ve had the vaccine, and which arm it was administered. This will help them understand the mammogram images. If you still wish to wait, ask your doctor how long s/he recommends. But make the appointment for a future date, especially if you are overdue for screening. If you have felt any lump or thickening, do not delay for any reason.

Best advice is to schedule missed well-health appointments and screenings. With immunizations providing more safety, many offices’ calendars fill up; get on the list and keep your appointment. Good health, not only preventing COVID but also identifying other treatable diseases and conditions, is the goal.