When the most devastating health care crisis in generations hit, Coloradans responded by steering clear of the doctor. That might sound ironic, but shortly after COVID-19 first appeared in the Centennial State, Governor Jared Polis signed executive orders that, from March 23 to April 26, 2020, prohibited providers from performing many routine medical services. Some doctors who would have been allowed to treat patients during that time voluntarily closed to preserve personal protective equipment for essential workers. And even after all medical offices were allowed to reopen, many patients demurred on seeking treatment out of fear of contracting COVID-19 while, say, getting their teeth cleaned. The aggregate result of these actions was that visits to health care providers along the Front Range in 2020 plummeted 25 percent compared to 2019 totals, according to a September 2021 report from the Colorado Health Institute, a Denver-based nonprofit.
As understandable as missing treatment was under those circumstances, the long-term impact of this so-called “foregone care” could be devastating. That’s because preventive visits, the easiest appointments to skip or reschedule, were the most likely to be missed. And without regular physicals, cancer screenings, and other evaluations, doctors lost many of their frontline defenses. “Preventive medicine is extremely important,” says Dr. Scott Joy, chief medical officer of HealthOne Physician Services Group in Denver. “If we detect problems before they become catastrophic, you’ve obviously saved a lot of money from emergency room costs, extensive procedures, and length of stay.”
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Not to mention saved lives: Preventive care has routinely been shown to decrease morbidity and mortality. (Recommended vaccines alone prevent more than 42,000 deaths in the United States each year.) Yet even before COVID-19, only eight percent of U.S. adults ages 35 and older received all the high-priority preventive treatment providers recommend.
Why do so many people pass on routine care? For many, such as the uninsured, it’s not so much a choice as a financial necessity. Others simply don’t know the doctors and tests—all of which change based on age, family history, and behavioral factors—they should regularly access. Read on to make sure you have all the information and tools you need to keep the most important New Year’s resolution of all: taking (preventive) care of yourself.
Mind the Medicine Gap
A by-the-numbers look at preventative health care in Colorado from March 15, 2020, through January 2, 2021, compared to the same period in 2019:
47%: Decrease in wellness exam visits
44%: Drop in blood-pressure exams, which help screen for cardiovascular disease
27%: Fewer HBA1C tests, which measure blood sugar and are used to check for diabetes in adults
Source: Colorado Health Institute; data based on Coloradans, from March 15, 2020, through January 2, 2021, compared to the same period in 2019
So what exactly