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41 Percent of U.S. Adults Have Forgone In-Person Medical Care During COVID

It may be time to reevaluate your medical visits in the months ahead

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By mid-pandemic, an estimated 41 percent of U.S. adults — about 105 million people — had forgone in-person medical care, be it routine or emergency, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Elective surgeries were mostly shut down, and millions of people simply stayed away from doctors’ offices. Here's what to ask yourself if you, too, avoided care this past year.

The Key Question

Am I taking my important daily medications?

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About 37 percent of primary care physicians reported that their patients who had chronic conditions were in “noticeably worse health resulting from the pandemic,” according to a November survey. That makes sense: During the early months of COVID, routine health screenings dropped by more than half. One study found that renewal rates on a number of prescription drugs, particularly statins and arthritis medications, decreased significantly in the first few months of lockdown.

Test yourself: The medicine cabinet inventory

This is simple. Do you have an ample supply of all the medicines and supplements your doctor wants you to take? And, more important, are you actually taking them? Generally speaking, if you maintained your regular medications throughout the pandemic, and your conditions, like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, are well controlled, you should be fine. But if you didn't or you've put on weight and become more sedentary during the past year, you should reach out to your doctor about options.

A 2020 study of more than 3 million people, median age 72, found that nearly half took more than five daily prescription medications (known as polypharmacy).

Three catch-up medical visits to schedule

  • Cancer screenings

Blood Pressure Monitoring

If you use a home blood pressure monitor, next time measure both arms. A review of 24 studies in the journal Hypertension looked at blood pressure tests on 53,000 people. It found that those with systolic readings differing by 5 mm Hg or more between arms had higher rates of cardiovascular death, even in those who had no preexisting heart disease. If you notice a difference, talk to your doctor.

A 2020 survey by the Epic Health Research Network revealed missed screenings nationwide totaling 285,000 for breast cancer, 95,000 for colon and 40,000 for cervical. These represent roughly a two-thirds drop overall for each in the first months of the pandemic. These numbers have rebounded, and now that vaccinations are becoming more widespread, it's time to call your doctor, especially if you're high risk.

However, it is important to note that research has shown that older people can “overscreen” for certain cancers — women over age 65 have aged out of cervical screening, for example, and those ages 74 to 75, for breast and colorectal cancer — but you also want to be smart about it. Talk with your doctor about what you need (and don't), especially if you're high risk.

  • Vision maintenance

If you already wear glasses or contacts and they haven't broken or gone missing, you probably haven't thought much about your eye doctor in the past year — like a lot of people. There were an estimated 44 percent fewer ophthalmology visits and procedures done from March to July 2020 than during the same months in 2019 — one of the biggest dips for any medical subspecialty, according to an analysis by Strata Decision Technology. Schedule a comprehensive vision test for 2021.

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  • Dentist

Dentists on the whole have done very well protecting their patients and themselves from COVID-19, with infection rates below 1 percent among dentists, according to the American Dental Association.

Mike Zimmerman is the author of more than a dozen books on health, fitness and nutrition.

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