One of the unfortunate sequelae of Covid-19 has been medical clinics shutting down and patients not receiving regular care at their doctor's office. For much of 2020, medical offices were either closed, open only part of the time, not accepting new patients, not seeing patients in person or creating barriers to care. It was confusing and scary. Vaccinations, screening tests, childhood immunizations, mental health care, visits to dentists all took a nosedive. Even with telemedicine, there were 6.9 million fewer mental health visits. Early childhood immunizations declined by 22%. And 31% of adults avoided preventive care in 2020. We will not know the effects of these delays for many months as data comes in and is analyzed.
It's now been about a year since things shut down and the majority of doctors and dental clinics are open. Hospitals are doing elective surgical cases and screening tests (mammograms, lab tests, colonoscopies) are available. But some clinics are still limiting in-person visits and spacing patients while the vaccinations are rolled out. We are far from being "pre-pandemic back-to-normal". Here are red alert symptoms that should not be ignored or postponed:
Shortness of breath. Any change from normal needs to be seen. Yes it could be Covid but there are many other causes that require a work-up by your doctor.
Chest pain. Emergency visits for chest pain (and myocardial infarction) declined dramatically in 2020 as well as strokes. Don't be afraid to visit the emergency departments or your physician if you have any unusual chest pressure or pain, no matter how small. And if it occurs with exertion, don't delay.
Any new symptoms that affect daily life. This could be as simple as a urinary tract infection to a headache that lasts three days. If something is new and it persists, don't ignore it.
Chronic follow up. Diabetes, hypertension, cancer screening, heart failure, psychiatric disorders all need regular checks and balances. For awhile we doctors were just refilling medications because we couldn't offer appointments. That is over. We want you to come in.
Psychiatric problems. Difficulty sleeping? Eating out of control? Anxiety and depression need attention and the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to many more mental health issues. We can help and psychiatrists and counselors are even more available now with tele-medicine.
Birth control. No explanation needed here.
It's not just restaurants and schools that need to get back operating. Health care goes beyond Covid and we've put it off long enough.