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The doctor is in

Time to end delayed health care

by Julie Estlick

doctor holding stethoscope with alarm clockAs everyone hunkered down throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many routines went by the wayside. That included canceling annual physicals, elective procedures, and even important health screenings and treatment, all to avoid potentially catching the virus. Now that a growing portion of Colorado’s population is vaccinated and strict infection protocols are in place, it’s time to schedule those appointments if you haven’t already, say local health-care providers.

In a recent survey by The Harris Poll, 52 percent of Americans said they delayed or canceled health-care services since the pandemic started. Locally, many doctor’s offices and non-emergency medical facilities needed to restrict in-person care for a time, with patients communicating with providers by video or over the phone for routine visits or to determine if in-person treatment was needed. At times it was a difficult way to provide comprehensive care, says Dr. Mark Simmons, internal medicine and pediatric care physician for UCHealth Northern Colorado.

“With telehealth visits we couldn’t do the usual care like take the patient’s blood pressure, or listen to their heart and lungs, so we couldn’t pick up heart murmurs,” Simmons says. The yearly check-up for school-aged kids is when a doctor picks up on any growth problems and can discuss mental health issues, a growing concern for all ages during the stress of the pandemic. Simmons said he preferred not to do physicals over video for fear of missing problems.

Now that restrictions have lifted and more people are vaccinated, he advises families not to wait any longer to see their care team. The risks of delaying care for known issues like hypertension or diabetes—or problems that have yet to be caught on a Pap test or mammogram—are a big concern. Even routine blood draws can tell a lot about what is going on in the body without a patient experiencing symptoms. “With regular screening we can pick up problems earlier when they are easier to treat, and there are fewer chances of complications. For instance, a whole host of serious medical issues can occur for those with untreated diabetes and high blood pressure,” he explains.

New screening guidelines

One recommended test that some of us put off is a colonoscopy. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women, but the colonoscopy exam is the one test we have that can actually stop cancer, Simmons points out. That’s because the doctor can remove any polyps found during the procedure to prevent colorectal cancer from developing.

New guidelines mean more people will be asked to schedule their first colonoscopy before their 50th birthday. The American Cancer Society recently updated the colorectal cancer screening recommendation to age 45. In the past, 45 was the age recommended for Blacks because of their higher risk as a group, and before age 50 for those with a family history of colon cancer. An initial colonoscopy was advised for everyone else at age 50.

“There are 18,000 colon cancers diagnosed each year for men and women under the age of 50 in the U.S., so I was happy to see the new guidelines,” Simmons says. “I tell people they just have to get through the prep, then it’s a nice nap because you’re asleep during the colonoscopy itself. It’s absolutely worth it.”

Catch up on immunizations

Since the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on for over a year, many people have fallen behind on their shot schedule. Infants and children need their immunizations to keep them safe from diseases like measles, whooping cough, and polio. If you have young children 5 and under, it’s especially important to follow the timeline for their primary series of vaccines, Simmons stresses. Most childcare providers require kids to be vaccinated before enrollment, as well as schools (with some exceptions allowed).

For adults who put off other vaccines when they were getting their COVID-19 shots, the latest recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that you don’t have to wait. Some people delayed their first shingles vaccine or waited longer than the recommended 2 to 6 months between their first and second dose during the pandemic, for instance. If you’ve waited, it is recommended that the second dose of Shingrix, the shingles vaccine, be done as close to 6 months after the first one as possible. You are still protected, according to the CDC, so go ahead and schedule it no matter where you are in your COVID-19 vaccination plan. 

Also, mammograms can still be done even if your lymph nodes may be enlarged after a COVID-19 shot. Just tell the technician doing the mammogram that you've recently received a COVID-19 vaccine and they will take that into consideration.

calendar pages flyingPay attention to your teeth

Trips to the dentist were also often put on hold over the last year. A dental cleaning, though, is about more than shining up your pearly whites—the condition of your teeth and oral issues are examined and can change dramatically in a year, says Dr. Justyna Aspiazu of the Health District of Northern Larimer County’s Family Dental Clinic.

“Cavities can become bigger and lead to a root canal or an extraction. A small lesion on the tongue, which could have been removed, may become malignant, grow, and spread cancer to other parts of the body,” Aspiazu warns. 

And according to an American Dental Association survey, dentists around the country reported a greater than 60 percent increase in stress-related conditions in the teeth such as clenching and grinding which leads to headaches, muscle fatigue, and fractured teeth.

For all of these reasons, now is a good time to visit your dentist and get a current picture of your dental health, Aspiazu says. The Family Dental Clinic is seeing patients for routine care as well as emergencies with strict cleaning protocols in place. Call 970-416-5331 to see if you are eligible for services.

As we return to more normal daily lives, it pays to make time for our health. Writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said it best: “Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

Schedule affordable care*
UCHealth Family Medicine Center
970-495-8800, uchealth.org

Salud Family Health Center - Blue Spruce
970-484-0999, saludclinic.org
(Additional locations in Fort Collins and northern Colorado)

Poudre School District Health and Wellness Center
(open by appointment during the summer)
Enroll at 970-488-4950 or hwcenter.org
Health District's Heart Health Promotion Program
Registered nurses provide free cholesterol and blood pressure screenings and education for Health District residents. For appointments and upcoming clinic dates/locations call 970-224-5209 or go to healthdistrict.org/heart for more information.

Health District's Family Dental Clinic
Call to see if you qualify at 970-416-5331 or go to healthdistrict.org/family-dental-clinic for more information.

*Always check on COVID-19 safety requirements before your appointment