Because of the coronavirus pandemic, cancer screenings were shut down from March 24 until May 7, under Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order. Many patients during that time had appointments canceled and still haven’t rescheduled, leading to a decline in the number of screenings.
Since March, Americans and health centers have been urged to delay routine cancer screenings to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 and mitigate the spread. As a result, screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancer are down between 86% and 94%. Also, 79% of cancer patients in active treatment report delays in care due to COVID-19, according to American Cancer Society.
Between March 15 and June 16, approximately 285,000 breast screenings, 95,000 colon screenings and 40,000 cervical exams were missed, which represent deficits of 63%, 64% and 67% relative to the number of screenings that would be expected based on the historical average, according to Epic Health Research Network.
Dr. Bertan Ozgun, a radiologist at Advanced Radiology, said only 50% of his patients have had their annual mammograms.
“If people don’t get their mammograms and develop breast cancer in this time frame, it is possible the diagnosis will be delayed and treatment will be more complicated,” Ozgun said. “We have been sending reminder letters to people, so everyone knows our offices are safe to come get screenings.”
Advanced Radiology has started doing online registration to cut down time waiting in office. They have also spaced out mammogram appointments, so people aren’t crowded together waiting and they have enough time to clean between patients, Ozgun said.
LifeBridge Health is having its fifth annual Mammothon on Nov.12. All offices will be doing as many screenings as they can, no doctor note is required.
Ozgun said he not only has been screening patients but even has had his wife and mother in for their annual screenings.
Dr. Lucas Couch, a primary care physician at Carroll Hospital, said he is still doing 60% of his appointments via telehealth.
Telehealth has been more popular with his younger clients because appointments take only around 15 minutes, said Couch.
Couch prefers the in-person appointments to be able to do exams. But he said televisits are here to stay. Telehealth has its advantages with availability and convenience.
Couch has noted that older clients prefer to come into the office.
“We’re starting to catch back up," Couch said. "It is not ideal to put off talking to your doctors or rescheduling needed screenings. We are encouraging people to reach out and get back on schedule.”
Couch said he missed more than 100 appointments due to the shutdown. Currently, he is averaging 14 to 16 clients a day.
Carroll Hospital has caught up on all of its elective surgeries and procedures, Couch said.
“We are back open for business,” he said.