The Buffalo News
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As Covid-19 continues to surge throughout our region and nation, another concerning trend has appeared in Western New York – decreased engagement in preventive care.
As the calendar flips to a new year, now is a good time to schedule recommended preventive care services. These includes a host of immunizations such as influenza, pneumonia, HPV and the two-dose shingles vaccines for older adults, along with screenings for colorectal, breast and cervical cancer, among other conditions. Annual well visits for adults and children, in person or via telehealth, help people of all ages get the preventive care most appropriate for them.
The benefits of preventive care – the vast majority of which is covered at no member cost share by health insurers – are well documented. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the U.S. and screening reduces mortality. When detected early, at the localized stage, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 99%. Cervical cancer screening reduces both cervical cancer incidence and mortality through detection of precancerous and cancerous lesions.
Despite the incredible importance of preventive care, research shows it has declined during the pandemic. According to data provided by the Health Care Cost Institute based on employer-sponsored health insurance, submitted claims for most preventive services, such as mammography and childhood immunizations, exhibited significant declines last year compared to 2019.
The drop-off was particularly dramatic during the first phase of the pandemic. Even by the end of August 2020, utilization of many preventive services were still running below 2019 levels.
We have seen a similar drop-off in some preventive services at Independent Health and we have taken action to help reverse these trends. These actions include alerting primary care physicians if their patients fall behind in annual visits or screenings, optimizing provider access through support of telemedicine as well as in-person visits, and direct outreach to members.
Covid-19 is taxing our health care system. It’s unlike anything we have dealt with previously. The promise of the Covid-19 vaccine is a beacon of light at the end of this long, dark pandemic tunnel.
As we eagerly await the broader distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population, we must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves and others from Covid-19. But we have another important opportunity to prevent illness and death by following through with recommended preventive care.
The old sport’s adage is equally applicable to our health – the best offense is a good defense.
Dr. Deirdre Wheat is medical director, quality, disease and case management, at Independent Health.