Doctors believe that coronavirus-driven fear and diminished trust in the U.S. medical system is keeping people at home despite some experiencing dangerous chest pains and exhibiting stroke symptoms.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that emergency-room visits nationwide plummeted 42% in April—from a mean of 2.1 million a week to 1.2 million, compared to the same period a year ago.
A Harris poll on behalf of the American Heart Association discovered that about 25% of adults experiencing a heart attack or stroke would rather stay at home than risk getting infected by the coronavirus at a hospital.
Perhaps even more troubling is the large drop in the number of patients getting routine screenings, especially in areas hard-hit by the contagion.
According to models put forth by the medical research company IQVIA, they are anticipating postponed diagnoses of an estimated 36,000 breast cancers and 19,000 colorectal cancers.
At Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California, scheduled mammograms have plunged by as much as 90% due to the pandemic.
“When you see only 10% of possible patients, you’re not going to spot that woman with early-stage breast cancer who needs a follow-up biopsy,” Dr. Burton Eisenberg, executive medical director of the Hoag Family Cancer Institute, told California Healthline.
Before the coronavirus, Eisenberg often saw about five melanoma patients a week, but within the past month, he hasn’t seen any.
“There’s going to be a lag time before we see the results of all this missed care,” he said.
“In two or three years, we’re going to see a spike in breast cancer in Orange County, and we’ll know why.”
Dr. Farzad Mostashari, former national coordinator for health information technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, echoed those concerns.
“There will be consequences for deferring chronic disease management,” he told California Healthline.
“Patients with untreated high blood pressure, heart and lung and kidney diseases are all likely to experience a slow deterioration. Missed mammograms, people keeping up with blood pressure control—there’s no question this will all cause problems.”
The United States has the most cases by far, with nearly 4.7 million confirmed infections and more than 155,000 deaths.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.