U.S. Medical Testing, Cancer Screenings Plunge During Coronavirus Outbreak

Routine medical tests critical for detecting and monitoring cancer and other conditions plummeted in the United States since mid-March, as the coronavirus spread and public officials urged residents to stay home, according to a new report by Komodo Health, Reuters informed.

Diagnostic panels and cancer screenings typically performed during annual physician visits fell by as much as 68% nationally, and by even more in coronavirus hotspots.

These tests, office visits, surgeries and other medical care tied to them, are key sources of revenue for hospitals and healthcare systems that had to curb lucrative elective procedures to assure room for a crush of patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Millions of patients postponed tests considered crucial for detecting early signs of disease, monitoring its progression and improving patient outcomes, according to Komodo, which has one of the nation’s largest medical claims data bases and provided its new findings exclusively to Reuters.

Cervical cancer screenings were down 68%, cholesterol panels fell by 67% and the blood sugar test to detect diabetes were off 65% nationally. This could all prove very costly down the road.

“We’re seeing a tremendous impact on preventative care, as well as on chronic conditions with massive implications for the healthcare system,” said Komodo Health Chief Executive Dr. Arif Nathoo. “It speaks volumes to just how much COVID is impacting everyone’s health and wellness.”

San Francisco-based Komodo reviewed billing records of 320 million patients across the country from March 19 to April 20 and compared it to the preceding 11 weeks and a similar period last year.

It found the sharpest decline of tests and screenings in areas hardest hit by the epidemic, such as New York’s Manhattan, where A1c blood tests for diabetes dropped by more than 90%. In Massachusetts, cholesterol testing fell 80.5%, while in California, screening to detect cervical cancer before it spreads and becomes difficult to treat were off 76.3%.

“A lot of these tests are run infrequently, but they are run when a patient visits their doctor,” Nathoo said.

Data from Komodo and others have begun to shine light on the gaps in care created by an epidemic that has infected close to 1 million people in the United States, and could have a lasting impact on the U.S. healthcare system beyond COVID-19.

“There are millions of patients that have deferred care. And a lot of these patients are chronically ill patients with all kinds of complications,” said David Linetsky, head of life sciences at Phreesia, a New York-based patient intake technology company. “There are going to be tremendous health repercussions.”

Linetsky’s analysis with researchers at Harvard University released last week also showed that outpatient office visits fell nearly 60% in mid-March and remained low through mid-April.

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