Did you miss your annual mammogram or fail to get to the dentist for a twice-a-year cleaning? Many people have been canceling or postponing routine doctors’ appointments during the pandemic. Are they putting their health at risk?
That depends on a lot of factors, including age, health history and preventative health needs.
Dr. Irvin Sulapas, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, views a missed annual appointment as a missed opportunity for early detection of diseases or prevention of health problems.
“Missing an annual appointment can delay treatment of an underlying disease,” he said. “Going to the doctor for an annual health visit provides routine physicals and tests, and the provider can find problems before they even start.”
Sulapas said at the start of the pandemic people were canceling or postponing mammograms and colonoscopies, but he’s now noticing more people are coming in for those recommended screenings as well as immunizations, blood tests and more.
“For a young healthy adult, one can argue about getting a physical/health check up every other year. However, if someone has a chronic medication condition, then it’s recommended for them to come in more regularly,” he said
Dr. Dianna L. Fite, president of the Texas Medical Association agreed, noting that a lot of health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, do not have noticeable symptoms in the very beginning.
“You want those problems to be detected before they cause any symptoms. And certain tests or vaccinations are due at certain ages, and those need to be done in a timely manner,” Fite wrote in an email.
Fite says only very healthy people should risk missing an annual appointment.
“If they feel fine and they do not smoke or drink more than one alcohol drink per day, and they are not overweight, and do not have a significant family history of heart attacks or cancer, then they may do fine without that appointment,” she said.
If you are concerned about the risk of COVID-19 infection from an in-person doctor’s visit, telemedicine may be the answer, but keep in mind it has limitations. For example, the doctor can’t listen to your heart, look at veins or check your blood pressure by video chat.
Dental cleanings and screenings have also been pushed to the back burner during the pandemic for many individuals and families. It’s led to a surge in oral health problems.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all dental offices shut down except for urgent or emergency situations. That recommendation has since been relaxed and replaced by specific health protocols for dental care during the pandemic.