At the height of stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare facilities were essentially closed for non-emergency in-person care. Now that they’ve generally reopened, though, there’s a lingering concern that is keeping would-be patients away.
In a new national survey, patients report they’re continuing to delay or cancel in person appointments for screenings (e.g., mammograms and colonoscopies), specialists and diagnostic testing, out of concern for the policies and conditions of the healthcare environments.
The survey, performed by a coalition of cancer advocacy groups, a healthcare service organization and smart building company View, showed that half of all patients had delayed at least one medical appointment due to lasting impact of COVID-19.
Both healthy respondents and those with chronic conditions reported cancelling or postponing appointments. Healthy patients delayed primary care visits, while chronic patients primarily canceled or postponed diagnostic imaging and lab appointments.
One-third of healthy respondents and 15% of chronic patients surveyed said they had postponed or canceled appointments for mammograms, colonoscopies or other screenings.
Of the 550-plus respondents, 77% expressed concerns about contracting or transmitting COVID-19 at the care site as one of their primary reasons for delaying care. While half worry about the adherence to safety guidelines (e.g., wearing masks) by staff and other patients, the other half expressed fears about the physical environment with overwhelming concern about the safety of waiting rooms.
“We are very worried about the long-term consequences of COVID and delayed appointments,” said Andrea Goodman, VP of patient & family support at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the largest nonprofit colorectal cancer organization and one of the survey’s five sponsors.
“When routine colonoscopies and visits are postponed, there is a tremendous risk of missing that window for early detection and successful treatment,” Goodman continued. “It is critical that we address fears with safe protocols in place to give patients the peace of mind they need to schedule and keep their medical appointments.”
The survey found that both operational strategies (enforced mask-wearing, monitored social distancing, temperature scanning, contact tracing, etc.) and environmental strategies (touchless technologies, disinfection protocols and real-time display of environmental conditions) will be necessary to ease patients’ worries about in-person visits. In fact, restoring patient confidence in the hospital or medical center is critical to having patients return to regular care six months earlier than they might if these fears aren’t addressed, according to the coalition.
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