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Doctors concerned over Utahns delaying medical care during pandemic

Posted at 5:41 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 19:41:22-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health care workers say they’re "seriously concerned" over the number of people postponing medical care during the pandemic.

Hospital administrators at University of Utah Health admit canceling appointments and surgeries early on in the pandemic may be partly to blame. However, now they say it’s safe to come back, and the sooner the better.

READ: Utah sets exit plan for mask mandates, COVID-19 restrictions

Fear of catching COVID-19 caused Barbara Muñoz to postpone several health care appointments, including skin and breast cancer screenings. She made an appointment for November.

“Our cases were surging so high around the holidays that I just didn’t feel comfortable going in for a mammogram,” Muñoz said.

She fears other patients could possibly spread the virus. Working in health care herself, Muñoz understands the risks.

“I think it has been a really tough balancing act for a lot of people who have been high-risk or have just been nervous about it,” she said.

READ: Long-haulers look for help; U of U plans to add ‘post-COVID-19 clinic’

An early report by the CDC showed nearly half of Americans put off medical care in the last year. Talar Coursey had new spots on her chest that weren’t going away.

“When I finally got around to getting the referral, I canceled it because I didn’t want to go in,” Coursey said.

“When we see trends like this, they are very concerning,” said Dr. Sachin Apte of Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Since March, University of Utah Health reports childhood immunizations declined 3 percent, breast cancer screenings dropped 4 percent, and diabetes screenings down 7 percent.

READ: Flu, RSV cases among Utah kids reached record lows this winter

“I would strongly recommend that patients see their doctors and resume the screening that they may have put off or rescheduled, and really not to skimp that because we really want to catch these problems before they become much bigger problems,” Dr. Apte said.

While some procedures were canceled or rescheduled, hospital administration said on Tuesday that stopped two months ago. They say some patients still haven’t rescheduled.

“I have this list in my head of all the appointments I’m going to schedule as soon as I have the second shot scheduled. Within a couple weeks after that, all these things I want to do that have been piling up,” Muñoz said.

While virtual appointments can be beneficial, physicians say nothing compares to an in-person visit, especially with cancer screenings. They say it’s rare for someone to get COVID-19 in a health care setting.