In a sign that the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on routine healthcare, many of the nearly one-third of older Americans who had a medical procedure, primary care visit or dental appointment canceled or postponed due to COVID still haven't received that care, a new poll finds.
"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, not to mention operations and procedures to address a pressing health need," said Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren, associate director of the National Poll on Healthy Aging and an associate professor of internal medicine at University of Michigan-Michigan Medicine.
"The fact that half or more unvaccinated people have not yet rescheduled those disrupted appointments is especially concerning, because every encounter with a healthcare provider is also an opportunity to talk about the benefits and safety of COVID vaccination for older adults," Kullgren added in a university news release.
Of the more than 1,000 adults aged 50 and older who were surveyed online or by phone in late January, 14% said they had postponed, rescheduled or canceled a procedure, operation or test in the past year, and another 8% said their provider had done so.
Among those who had an appointment scheduled to have a procedure, test or operation in 2021, 28% said it was disrupted due to COVID-19.
Of those who had a test, procedure or operation delayed due to COVID-19 in 2021, most had already received the delayed care by the time of the survey (34%) or had scheduled it for a future date (38%). Another 16% said they planned to reschedule but haven't done it yet, and 10% weren't planning to reschedule.
Vaccinated and boosted adults were much more likely to have rescheduled a test, procedure or operation (81%) than unvaccinated adults (44%).
The poll also found that 15% of respondents said they had postponed, rescheduled or canceled a visit to their primary care provider due to COVID-19 in the past year, while 11% said their provider had done so.
Of those who had a primary care visit disrupted, 56% have had a makeup visit, 20% have scheduled one, 14% haven't rescheduled and 8% aren't planning to. Vaccinated (74%) and vaccinated/boosted people (85%) were much more likely to have rescheduled a primary care appointment than unvaccinated people (53%).
The story was the same when it came to dental visits.
Nearly 1 in 5 (18%) of respondents said they had postponed, rescheduled or canceled a dental appointment in the past year due to COVID-19, and 8% said their provider had postponed, rescheduled or canceled their appointment. Vaccinated and boosted people were much more likely (64%) to have rescheduled a disrupted dental appointment than unvaccinated people (30%), according to the poll.
Older adults need to understand 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 poll director Dr. Preeti Malani.
"Even as the pandemic continues, it's important for everyone to remember that COVID-19 is not the only risk to health," she said in the release. "It's important to make sure we are taking care of all the health needs of older adults, including care that may have been disrupted."
The Mayo Clinic offers advice on seeing your doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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