Michigan Association of Health Plans

Did the pandemic interrupt your health care? Time to get back on track!

This article appeared in the University of Michigan Health Blog. Read more here

The roller-coaster ride of COVID-19 surges in 2021 disrupted a lot of the medical and dental appointments that many people had planned.

In fact, new results from the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging show that nearly one-third of people over 50 who had an appointment on their calendars in 2021 either delayed it, or had it delayed by their provider. That includes operations and procedures that had to be cancelled by hospitals because they were overwhelmed by pandemic-related care.

And many other people may have just put off making an appointment at all.

“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,” said Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., a general internal medicine physician at Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System who co-directs the poll.

But now it’s 2022, the Omicron surge has waned, and it’s time to get back on track with the appointments that can prevent future health problems, spot new problems early or keep existing issues in check.

“Even if you’ve been especially careful about COVID-19 exposure, remember 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 Preeti Malani, M.D., an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine and director of the poll, which is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and supported by Michigan Medicine and AARP.

There’s a lot of pent-up demand out there. So keep in mind that even if you call or message your doctor’s office or dentist’s office today, it might be weeks or months before the next available appointment.

That’s why it’s so important to contact them today.

What should you schedule? Here’s a partial list, especially if you put off care in 2020 or 2021:

1. A visit with your primary care provider – or get one if you don’t have one

The new poll shows 29% of older adults who had an appointment for primary care in 2021 experienced a disruption. If you haven’t gone in at least a year, or your child hasn’t, now’s the time to schedule.

For adults, this is a chance to get your weight, blood pressure and medication doses checked, and to discuss everything from mood and sleep to pain and digestive health. They’ll also let you know if you’re due for cancer or bone health screenings, vaccinations, or blood or urine tests to check your cholesterol, blood sugar, and more. If you have a specific concern you want to address, mention it when you schedule the appointment.

2. A COVID-19 vaccination or booster, if you or your child are due

Everyone over age 5 is eligible, and vaccination has proven to protect against severe COVID-19. If you have gotten both doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine more than five months ago, or a dose of Johnson & Johnson more than two months ago, you’re due for a booster. So is any child over age 12 who had their last dose of Pfizer more than 5 months ago. If you or your child over age 5 have conditions or take medications that reduce immune system function, an additional dose of vaccine may be recommended to bolster immune defenses. If you had COVID-19 recently, you should still get vaccinated or boosted.

3. Catch up on other vaccinations for yourself and your children

Childhood vaccinations: Your child’s primary care provider knows what the recommendations are for children and teens their age; there’s even a ‘catch up’ schedule for those who missed doses for any reason.

Shingles: This two-dose vaccine is recommended for all adults over 50, and also now recommended for immunocompromised people over 19.

Pneumonia: Most adults over 65, and adults of any age who smoke or have a condition that affects their immune system such as diabetes, asthma, heart failure or a cochlear implant, should get the pneumococcal vaccine. It can prevent diseases including sinus infections, pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections.

Tetanus, diphtheria & pertussis (whooping cough): In addition to the shots given to children against these diseases, every adult needs a booster shot of vaccine every 10 years. It’s especially important for anyone who will be around babies because of pertussis, commonly called whooping cough.

4. Look for early signs of common cancers

Research has shown that pandemic-related concerns have led to people being diagnosed with cancer later than before COVID-19 arrived, because of delayed screenings.

Colon cancer: If you’re between the ages of 45 and 75, you can do an at-home stool test or a colonoscopy.

Breast cancer: Some women start having annual mammograms at age 40, and all women should get them regularly from ages 50 to 75. An important note: If you recently got a dose of COVID-19 vaccination, wait a few weeks before having a mammogram.

Lung cancer: Depending on your smoking history, if you’re between 50 and 80 years old, you may qualify for a lung CT scan at no cost to you, to look for early signs of cancer.

Cervical cancer: If you are a woman under 65, HPV tests and Pap smears are recommended; how often depends on your history, so talk to your doctor. Teens and adults under 45 can get an HPV vaccine to help prevent cervical cancer – both male and female.

5. Get to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned and gums checked

All adults and children should see a dentist or dental hygienist at least once a year, and preferably twice. The new poll shows that 31% of adults over 50 who had a dental appointment on their calendars in 2021 experienced a delay. Letting dental problems get worse can impact other aspects of your health.

6. Get your eyes – or your child’s – checked

If you have glasses or contacts, or your child does, you should get your prescription checked and perhaps adjusted. All children should get regular checks as their eyes develop, all people over 50 should get checked for early signs of glaucoma, and people who have diabetes need to get their retinas checked.

7. Get your hearing checked

If you’ve been noticing possible signs that you’re not hearing things others are hearing, or others have mentioned this to you, talk to your doctor. New, less-expensive options for hearing aids are on the horizon. Children should also have regular hearing tests. Some schools may have interrupted their regular screening programs because of the pandemic; if that happened in your school, ask if your child’s hearing should be checked another way.

8. Schedule an appointment with your specialist if you have one

Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, lung issues, autoimmune disorders and digestive conditions all need regular management, and specialists are often booked months in advance. If you didn’t see yours in 2021, don’t wait for them to contact you – reach out now.

9. If you take many medications, schedule time with a pharmacist

For older adults especially, an annual medication review can check for possible risks, interactions with supplements, or chances to increase or reduce doses. Medicare may even cover the appointment. But keep in mind that pharmacists may be busy giving vaccinations too.

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