As a primary care physician, there is one thing lately that concerns me even more than COVID-19: important health issues that are being ignored because of COVID-19.
High blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, vaccine preventable illness, tooth decay, child developmental delay, mental health and substance use disorders, and other common maladies have not simply disappeared.
Just to be clear, I do not wish to diminish the importance of the current pandemic resulting from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. As I have said before, we are experiencing a once-in-a-century public health crisis. Public health experts have reflected on the fact that we are just nearing the end of the beginning, meaning that this pandemic is far from over. As more and more communities experience a surge in cases, it is critical that we remain steadfast in our efforts to physically distance, practice proper respiratory hygiene and flatten the curve.
Meanwhile, however, the baseline health issues that preceded the pandemic are not gone nor are they reduced by the coronavirus. Both chronic and acute health conditions persist with at least the same frequency and severity, if not more so as a result of having been deprioritized or ignored altogether as COVID-19 consumes our collective attention.
Now is not the time to stand down our efforts to reduce the burden of common preventable and/or treatable health conditions. On the contrary, the very struggle to find safe and effective treatments and preventive measures for COVID-19 should shine a bright light on the many safe and effective treatments and preventive measures that already exist for conditions ranging from high blood pressure to measles.
Take vaccine preventable illness as an example. There is no better time to engage both children and adults in a plan for immunizations as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A global pandemic attributable to a new virus is no time to lay the groundwork for a regional or national epidemic of common infections for which safe and effective vaccines already exist.
Well-child care is another example. In addition to vaccines, physical, growth and developmental screenings, especially among young children, are absolutely critical now just as always. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have strongly encouraged parents to maintain a routine of well-child visits.
People with high blood pressure and diabetes need their medications, lab monitoring and care plan updated just as frequently now as before the pandemic. Evidence strongly supports the effectiveness of chronic disease management in reducing the burden of preventable complications.
While it is true that extra precautions are needed to protect those seeking routine health care, whether through telemedicine, selective scheduling or physical separation for well visits and sick visits, and screening for acute illness, the focus on necessary care must remain a priority – for both patients and health care providers.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.