Healthcare Screenings Fall by the Wayside to Detriment of Seniors

Nov 17, 2020

One largely hidden aspect of the pandemic may mean millions more in health care costs and even more  lives lost.

“Study from the UK stated that a delay in diagnosis in cancer care they expect about 300,000 expected deaths in the next 3-5 years of a delay of 3months but us being 6 months that number could go up.”

That is a quote from Dr. Noah Taylor, a Radiation Oncologist at Evansville Cancer Center and Deaconess hospital. Dr. Taylor has been at Deaconess for 8 years and has plenty of good information about his experiences and the current pandemic.

“Cancer screening has been significantly important for the past 20-30 years the most common are mammograms for women and colorectal screening for men," Taylor said.

“All the data shows 2 things that early detection of cancer saves lives and results in more successful treatment and the screening can detect cancer and improve outcomes. Most screening programs shut down across the country in March of 2020 all physician offices became more virtual and remote. They didn't start up until mid-summer so there was about a 6 month gap in screening.”

The CDC recommends people at a high risk of getting cancer to get screened regularly. Registered nurse Dana Eyler from the St. Louis area said, "If they don't seek help, obviously the worst scenario is that the person could die, maybe they've had a really large laceration, and it's infected and they don't know it, and they don't seek out, they could become septic, which is an infection in the bloodstream and die because they don't seek medical attention. Because they're not really aware that they should, so that's an example of where people are not really going into the doctor's office because they're fearful or they can't - the doctors’ offices aren't allowing it. That would be one example where it could just really go south.”

Dr. Taylor shares a very real personal story similar to the hypothetical Dana gave us.

"The patient actually came from Las Vegas, this gentleman had a cough and shortness of breath and weight loss and was a high-risk patient for lung cancer. In March 2020 he sought medical care and was unable to get into any doctors office and actually spent about three months trying to get in and trying to get a CT scan that he thought he needed and that his primary physician thought he needed. He eventually was frustrated in Evansville where he had family and by July finally had work up and imaging and found that he had lung cancer but was at stage 3 and so he had a 4-month delay and diagnosis. And we started his treatment but then he quickly progressed to stage 4 which is a little unusual during treatment to progressed so quickly. The thought process that we were thinking in that four month delay, he probably was staged two at the time of initial diagnosis Where his cure rate would be more like 75% and eventually became advanced stage 3. By the time we could treat him and then eventually stage 4 where one year survival is only 50.”

Also a personal story, Dana shares about her non-professional experiences with Covid.

“I have a parent in the hospital now, the staff looks exhausted to me. They are working a lot of long shifts, there are people that are out for whatever reason, and somebody has to pick up that slack and so I think that is true anywhere."

Caleb: “Are you able to see that family member in the hospital?”

Dana: "Yeah, She can have one visitor every 24 hours. So I can go and visit between 11 and 7 everyday, But if I leave I can't come back until the next day. And again it's very isolated with only one person. So if you have one family member come then no friends can come, and vice versa, you can't even have two family members come.”

Virtual therapy has been convenient for the majority of the population, but it has several downfalls. This is Dana's opinion of virtual therapy:

“They're doing virtual therapy, which is not very helpful. I'm sure these folks aren’t doing everything they should be doing to try to recover when they're trying to do their physical therapy from home. So it’s just all the way around, Covid has made things much much harder.”

Dr. Taylor mentioned his opinion about in-person visits.

“Most physician offices are quite safe and no staff has been affected since March. The staff and patients are very aware of the protocols and if you were to go anywhere this would be one of the safer places to go.”

As we all know, this virus has affected us all in many ways, some with their mental health. Dana and Dr. Taylor speak about the mental health aspect in regards to elderly during this time.

“The elderly have been isolating which is a good thing however they are also isolating themselves from their families… The elderly are the most vulnerable to self-isolating which they are doing which is causing a lot of depression… They have seen more depression in elderly because of fear and self-isolating from the virus," Taylor said.

“I think a lot of elderly people have isolated themselves. They have missed out on a lot of family functions, And in general, maybe they used to go out with their friends,Or maybe they were involved in some type of group, And some activities that they stopped doing through covid and have become self-isolated. Which often leads to depression. People get pretty depressed if they live alone and have no socialization. It can be pretty isolating and depressing then maybe they become so depressed but they don't take care of themselves, as well as they should. They lay in bed, sleep a lot longer, They don't get out and get fresh air, they don't eat right, Maybe they were normally going out for lunch and that was their really good meal at the senior center. They don't do that anymore. So we don't eat well, maybe they forget to take their medications, It becomes so isolating that they may lose track of the day of the week, You know they just are out of touch and I think it becomes quite depressing for folks that may have missed weddings or birthdays, events, or different family things and friends things. It's just a dismal situation for them, they don't have any outlet," Dana said.

Even though there have been many negatives in 2020. There are a few positives that have come from this pandemic. Here's Dr. Taylor with his brightside.

“There has to be some good that comes out of this pandemic. It's good for the hospital to refresh on mobilize the staff and emergency public health care situations. At Deaconess they have done a remarkable job. I think within the healthcare environment health care workers will wear masks for the rest of our lives.”