Did the pandemic interrupt your health care? Time to get back on track!

Health care during the pandemic

For many of us the pandemic has interrupted our normal health care plans. Whether your appointment or procedure got cancelled, or you haven’t gotten around to scheduling it, you’re not the only one. Now’s the time to contact your providers.

The roller-coaster ride of COVID-19 surges in 2021 disrupted a lot of the medical and dental appointments that many people had planned.

In fact, new results from the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging show that nearly one-third of people over 50 who had an appointment on their calendars in 2021 either delayed it, or had it delayed by their provider. That includes operations and procedures that had to be cancelled by hospitals because they were overwhelmed by pandemic-related care.

And many other people may have just put off making an appointment at all.

“Whether they chose to postpone or their provider did, these patients missed opportunities for preventive care and for early detection and effective management of chronic conditions,” said Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., a general internal medicine physician at Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System who co-directs the poll.

But now it’s 2022, the Omicron surge has waned, and it’s time to get back on track with the appointments that can prevent future health problems, spot new problems early or keep existing issues in check.

“Even if you’ve been especially careful about COVID-19 exposure during the pandemic, remember that seeking care – even if it means removing a mask temporarily to get dental work done – carries benefits, and that being vaccinated and boosted provides strong protection,” said Preeti Malani, M.D., an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine and director of the poll, which is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by Michigan Medicine and AARP.

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There’s a lot of pent-up demand out there. So keep in mind that even if you call or message your doctor’s office or dentist’s office today, it might be weeks or months before the next available appointment.

That’s why it’s so important to contact them today.

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What should you schedule? Here’s a partial list, especially if you put off care in 2020 or 2021:

  1. A visit with your primary care provider – or get one if you don’t have one

The new poll shows 29% of older adults who had an appointment for primary care in 2021 experienced a disruption. If you haven’t gone in at least a year, or your child hasn’t, now’s the time to schedule.

For adults, this is a chance to get your weight, blood pressure and medication doses checked, and to discuss everything from mood and sleep to pain and digestive health. They’ll also let you know if you’re due for cancer or bone health screenings, vaccinations, or blood or urine tests to check your cholesterol, blood sugar, and more. If you have a specific concern you want to address, mention it when you schedule the appointment.

  1. Look for early signs of common cancers

Research has shown that pandemic related concerns have led to people being diagnosed with cancer later than before COVID-19 arrived, because of delayed screenings.

Colon cancer: If you’re between the ages of 45 and 75, you can do an at-home stool test or a colonoscopy.

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Breast cancer: Some women start having annual mammograms at age 40, and all women should get them regularly from ages 50 to 75. An important note: If you recently got a dose of COVID-19 vaccination, wait a few weeks before having a mammogram.

Lung cancer: Depending on your smoking history, if you’re between 50 and 80 years old, you may qualify for a lung CT scan at no cost to you, to look for early signs of cancer.

Cervical cancer: If you are a woman under 65, HPV tests and Pap smears are recommended; how often depends on your history, so talk to your doctor. Teens and adults under 45 can get an HPV vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer – both male and female.

  1. Get to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned and gums checked

All adults and children should see a dentist or dental hygienist at least once a year, and preferably twice. The new poll shows that 31% of adults over 50 who had a dental appointment on their calendars in 2021 experienced a delay. Letting dental problems get worse can impact other aspects of your health.

  1. Get your eyes – or your child’s – checked

If you have glasses or contacts, or your child does, you should get your prescription checked and perhaps adjusted. All children should get regular checks as their eyes develop, all people over 50 should get checked for early signs of glaucoma, and people who have diabetes need to get their retinas checked.

  1. Get your hearing checked

If you’ve been noticing possible signs that you’re not hearing things others are hearing, or others have mentioned this to you, talk to your doctor. New, less-expensive options for hearing aids are on the horizon. Children should also have regular hearing tests. Some schools may have interrupted their regular screening programs because of the pandemic; if that happened in your school, ask if your child’s hearing should be checked another way.

  1. Schedule an appointment with your specialist if you have one
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Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, lung issues, autoimmune disorders and digestive conditions all need regular management, and specialists are often booked months in advance. If you didn’t see yours in 2021, don’t wait for them to contact you – reach out now.

  1. If you take many medications, schedule time with a pharmacist

For older adults especially, an annual medication review can check for possible risks, interactions with supplements, or chances to increase or reduce doses. Medicare may even cover the appointment. But keep in mind that pharmacists may be busy giving vaccinations too.

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