It’s Time to Get Back into the Habit of Routine Health Care
Over the past year, we’ve developed new habits, some healthy, some not. But as Oklahomans continue to readjust to something like pre-pandemic life, one major component of our routines has yet to return, with possibly devastating consequences. Patients across Oklahoma are delaying non-emergency medical care, and it has doctors and medical experts worried. Delaying the routine checkups that help prevent heart attacks, cancer, strokes, pneumonia, sepsis, and diabetic crises is likely costings lives. In short, your doctor wants you to come back, and there’s no time better than now.
“Many people have delayed screenings that are beneficial in early detection and prevention of cardiac and other diseases,” says Dr. Jered Cook, a cardiologist for INTEGRIS Health. Many of these delays, he says, are a response to the fear of being exposed to COVID in a hospital setting or simply because of a lack of resources.
Dr. Caroline Flint, OB-GYN at INTEGRIS Edmond Women’s Health, concurs. “I think part of this delaying is due to decreased resources for people who have lost their jobs and/or insurance,” she says, “but it’s also due to concerns of not wanting to get exposed to COVID for what they feel to be ‘elective’ or ‘nonurgent’ care.”
Herein lies the issue many providers are facing. They see first-hand the detrimental effects that delaying preventative care are having on their patients.
“I can recall three patients presented with advanced cancer stage to the hospital during the pandemic,” says Medical Oncologist Samer Hassan. “They ignored their symptoms for a few months as they were afraid of coming to the hospital.” Dr. Hassan stresses that if these patients had sought basic screening procedures—like a mammogram, colonoscopy, or pap smear—their outcomes could have been better.
“Early detection is key in cancer,” says Dr. Hassan. “Many times, no chemotherapy or radiation is required when the tumor is discovered and surgically removed early. Detecting the cancer at the early stage significantly improves the outcome.”
It’s not just in the field of oncology where preventative measures like cancer screenings save lives. According to Pediatrician Heather Weber, delaying care for your children can also have damaging effects on their health and development.
“There can be significant consequences for delaying care and screenings,” says Dr. Weber. “Delaying well checks or screenings can have a monumental impact on a child’s life if an abnormality is not caught early, or if a vaccine-preventable disease is contracted due to delayed immunizations. Development, mental health, labs, and vital signs are all monitored at these routine visits: If care is delayed, abnormal conditions can be missed, quickly worsen, and become severe.”
“This is true across the board,” notes Dr. Cook. “With cardiovascular issues, delayed screenings may cause certain risk factors to progress, making further diagnostic measures or treatments more difficult and invasive.”
“The biggest consequence of delayed screening is delayed diagnosis,” says Dr. Kristen Buzzard, Family Medicine. “This is significant because delayed diagnosis means more progressed disease that is more difficult to treat. This concept is the same for mammograms, PAP smears, and lung CTs—delayed diagnosis leads to poor outcomes.”
With such obvious health risks at stake, it’s clear patients need to get back to their routine care. Yet with a healthy fear of COVID, financial hardship, and lack of resources, what can be done? For starters, INTEGRIS Health has made an incredible effort to make their care facilities as safe as possible to help entice patients back to get the preventative care that could save their lives.
“Patients on chemotherapy are very susceptible to COVID-19. Therefore, we have been following CDC and ASCO guidelines in our clinic to ensure safety of the patients and staff,” explains Dr. Hassan. “Masks, face shields, frequent sanitation, distancing in waiting areas and treatment rooms have proved very successful in minimizing risk to patients.”
Furthermore, INTEGRIS Health is limiting visitors to one with the patient per clinical exam room.
“Our pediatric clinic has worked very hard over the past year to make visits safe,” says Dr. Weber. “We currently screen all patients prior to scheduling to determine if an in-office or virtual visit is appropriate for the visit. Temperature checks are performed, and visitors accompanying the patient are limited. Our waiting rooms and exam rooms are cleaned often, and masks are required by all inside the facilities.”
The reasons to go back to your physician after a long delay are many, and care providers are imploring their patients to heed the call, even if you feel embarrassed for procrastinating so long.
“I find that some patients feel guilty or shameful that they have delayed recommended screening and are embarrassed,” says Dr. Flint. “I always reiterate how happy I am that they are here today and that there is no judgment for not having had prior screening for whatever their reason may be. It is never too late to go ahead and make that appointment for routine screening.”
Dr. Weber agrees. “Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor as soon as possible. It is never too late to get back on schedule with wellness checks, immunizations and screenings. Our offices are open and are ready to safely take care of your children to help keep them healthy.”
For Drs. Hassan and Cook, these screenings are potentially the difference between life and death.
“In cardiology, some of our most important screeners are the history and physical exam done with office visits,” says Dr. Cook. “Certain labs, like cholesterol levels and echocardiograms, which is one of our most important tools, are mostly used to follow certain forms of heart disease. If you’ve missed or delayed screenings, it is imperative to get to the doctor and follow through with recommended screenings in order to avoid certain circumstances and to aid in prevention and early detection of health issues.”
“It’s not just the major health screenings that can have major effects,” as Dr. Weber explains.
“Well visits for children may seem routine, but there is a lot of monitoring and intervention that is performed at those visits,” Dr. Weber tells Oklahoma parents. “Growth, mental health, and development. Immunizations are also performed that will help prevent debilitating disease both now and in the future. The mental health of our children has been significantly affected by the pandemic, so now, more than ever, routine screening for this is important to ensure early intervention and treatment if needed.”
All the screenings and routine visits at INTEGRIS Health care clinics and hospitals are performed with patient and staff safety in mind. Don’t use COVID as an excuse to delay care that could save your life or your child’s in the future. So, this year, keep the meditation habit you started during quarantine, but ditch the health care procrastination. INTEGRIS Health is waiting to welcome you back.
Visit www.integrishealthdoctors.com today and schedule your much-needed checkup.