Indirect medical impacts of COVID-19

Sept. 23, 2020 / By Jean Jones, CPC

I recently wrote a blog about taking my son to the emergency room in the midst of a pandemic. A comment was posted on my blog about one person’s experience with an elevated blood pressure reading due to anxiety caused by COVID-19. This got me thinking about all of the other potential medical impacts people are experiencing as a result of COVID-19, even if they never contracted the actual disease.

I went to the emergency department once to receive care for my son, but imagine having a major issue during the pandemic, like managing a life-threatening diagnosis, or waiting for a kidney transplant, or needing surgery to prevent a stroke?

Here are some statistics about the effects of COVID-19 on other aspects of health as described in a New York Times article, “The Pandemic’s Hidden Victims: Sick or Dying but not from the Pandemic”:

  • Nearly one in four cancer patients reported delays in their care because of the pandemic, including access to in-person appointments, imaging, surgery and other services, according to a recent survey by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
  • Before the pandemic, there were about 750 living-donor kidney transplants a week in the United States. By late March, the number of transplants had dropped to 350 and continues to decline.
  • David Langer, director of neurosurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, Reported that his department had 65 surgeries on its schedule that were delayed as of spring 2020, and neither he nor other neurosurgeons had operated in weeks as of the article’s publication. Instead, they had been redeployed to the ICU to take care of coronavirus patients.”

In another article, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, warned that the indirect medical effects on women and children from COVID-19 could potentially cause more long-term harm than deaths from COVID-19. As noted in the article, access to health care is already a struggle for children and women and during the pandemic this issue has worsened.  WHO reported that at least 80 million children could miss routine vaccines and early data reflected a sharp decline in immunizations at the start of the pandemic.

As quoted in the article, Mary-Ann Etiebet, MD, MBA, reported “In the worst-case scenario, a recent publication in The Lancet estimated that COVID-19—in the next six months alone—could result in the deaths of over 1 million children and over 50,000 mothers all due to the indirect impact of COVID-19 and the reductions in utilizations of essential services,…We are all living in that worst-case scenario right now.”

We are now more than half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, we need to be cognizant of our health.  The health care industry had to shift gears quickly during the pandemic and many providers are now providing routine care via telehealth Several health care organizations have recommended their patients take the following steps to stay healthy:

  • Use telemedicine – reach out to your health care provider to see if any preventive or upcoming visits can be done virtually.
  • Make sure you have enough prescription medication on hand.
  • Get up to date on your vaccinations.

The CDC has several recommendations for providers in terms of seeing pediatric patients as well as patients with chronic illnesses. Make sure to reach out to your health care providers and get familiar with their COVID-19 protocols, as continuing to stay up to date with preventive care is of the utmost importance. To end this blog on a positive note, here area six “good news” bullets recently published by The Washington Post:

  • Therapeutic treatments will arrive before vaccines
  • Low cost saliva COVID-19 tests are coming!
  • Masks work!
  • Consensus has finally emerged that airborne spread is happening.
  • There is some science showing that past exposure to common-cold coronaviruses might play a protective role for some people. 

Until my next blog, stay safe and wash your hands!

Jean Jones is a coding analyst at 3M Health Information Systems.

Visit the 3M HIS COVID-19 resource page.

During a pandemic, information is gathered, studied, and published rapidly without the usual processes of review. Our understanding is rapidly evolving and what we understand today will change over time. Definitive studies will be published long after the fact. We share our thoughts and expertise based on currently available information.