During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people couldn’t — or wouldn’t — get routine healthcare. Their doctor’s office may have been closed, or they avoided medical visits due to concerns about COVID-19 exposure. As a result, tens of thousands of Americans missed cancer screenings, vaccinations, and other preventive services.
Though the worst of the pandemic may be over, many people remain overdue for necessary preventive care services. Glenn Druckenbrod, MD, Medical Director of Inova Fairfax Emergency Room (ER), and Rick Place, MD, Medical Director of Inova Fairfax Pediatric ER, discuss why you need preventive care and how to get back on track after COVID-19.
Getting Back to Regular Screenings
If you’re overdue for a screening or you aren’t sure, don’t wait — call your doctor. And if you don’t have a current doctor, now is a great time to find a new one. A primary care doctor can review your health history and needs. They can then customize a cancer screening schedule that’s right for you.
“There’s no judgment about missing care,” says Dr. Druckenbrod. “Don’t let a missed year turn into two or three missed years. At Inova, doctors are happy to see you and take care of you.”
Why Managing Chronic Conditions is Key
Millions of Americans have chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure). Managing these conditions requires regular checkups with your doctor. Yet during the pandemic, many of these appointments came to a halt. A 2020 study identified that 36 percent of non-elderly adults delayed or avoided care during the pandemic. Notably, three-quarters of those had one or more chronic health conditions. “Without regular care, diabetes and hypertension can cause serious health problems,” says Dr. Druckenbrod. “They cause silent damage to the kidneys, heart and other organs if left unchecked. The sooner you get back to managing chronic conditions, the healthier you will be.”
No matter what your health history, take a step toward better health for yourself and contact a doctor. “Start with your primary care physician,” says Dr. Druckenbrod. “A primary care doctor can manage your care and refer you to specialists when needed.”
Why Missed Cancer Screenings Matter
There’s no doubt that the pandemic made it hard to get cancer screenings and routine care. But now is the time to get back on track because missed cancer screenings can have serious health consequences. Learn more about returning to care and why you are safe at Inova.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that colorectal and breast cancer screenings missed in 2020 will cause 10,000 excess deaths in the next 10 years. Even if you’re healthy and at low risk, you need regular cancer screenings. Consider these facts:
- Three out of four women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease and are not considered at high risk.
- Mammograms have reduced deaths from breast cancer by nearly 40 percent since 1990.
- Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined.
- When colorectal cancer is found early through screening, the 5-year survival rate is 90 percent.
- Early-stage cervical cancers often have no symptoms, and 12,000 women get cervical cancer each year.
- More than 90 percent of cervical cancers could be prevented with routine screening and the HPV vaccine.
Missed Vaccines for Children
Regular well child visits are your pediatrician’s chance to check your child’s growth and development. And children also need vaccines to prevent serious diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles. Many vaccine-preventable diseases continue to be a threat, with several states reporting serious outbreaks in recent years.
“Children’s vaccines are just as important now as they were before the pandemic,” says Dr. Place. “But we’ve seen a big decline in the number of children getting their immunizations since before the pandemic in 2019. This is concerning because these diseases are still around. Without kids getting vaccines, these diseases can easily spread, causing unnecessary illness.”
If your child has missed vaccines, call your pediatrician. All pediatricians have a modified catch-up schedule to get your child the vaccines they need now.
“The catch-up schedule is designed to protect your child from the diseases that could affect them,” says Dr. Place. “For instance, an older child may not need certain vaccines that an infant would need, and vice versa.”
Reap the Benefits of the COVID-19 Vaccine
Both doctors stressed that the coronavirus vaccine has played the biggest role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. “It’s not an accident that COVID-19 case numbers are down,” says Dr. Place. “The reason we are turning the corner after a difficult year is because enough people are getting the COVID vaccine.”
Even young, healthy people can have long-term health problems if they catch the novel coronavirus. “We’re seeing younger people experience something called long COVID,” says Dr. Place. “People with long COVID — sometimes called COVID long-haulers — have lasting health problems. These effects last for weeks or months after the virus has run its course. Avoiding long COVID is yet another reason to get the vaccine.”
Common symptoms of long COVID include:
- Brain fog
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
If you haven’t done so yet, get your COVID vaccine. Together, the COVID vaccine and your preventive care can help you take charge of your health.
Ready to get back to regular healthcare screenings and feeling your best? Put your health first and find a doctor at Inova.