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US diagnostic screenings down by almost 70% amid pandemic

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | April 29, 2020
Business Affairs
Cervical cancer screenings have dropped by 68% due to COVID-19.
Diagnostic panels and cancer screenings are down by as much as 68% across the U.S., according to a study by data and analytics marketing firm Komodo Health.

Critical for detecting and monitoring cancer and other conditions, routine medical tests are strong sources of revenue for hospitals and healthcare systems, but have gone down in number since mid-March as patients stay home to help fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some coronavirus hot spots have even seen decreases that exceed this national drop, reported Reuters.

“We’re seeing a tremendous impact on preventive 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.”

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Millions of patients opted to postpone necessary testing to detect early symptoms of disease or monitor disease progress, according to Komodo, which analyzed billing records for 320 million patients across the U.S. between March 19 and April 20, and compared data to that of the preceding 11 weeks and a similar period last year.

Cervical cancer screenings dropped by 68%, cholesterol panels by 67% and blood sugar tests for diabetes by 65% nationally. The greatest declines were found in areas hit the hardest by the pandemic, such as Manhattan, where A1c blood tests for diabetes were down by more than 90%; in Massachusetts, where cholesterol testing fell 80.5%; and California, where screening to detect cervical cancer dropped by 76.3%.

Such declines could financially strain hospitals and healthcare systems, which have shut down elective procedures to prevent the spread of the virus to non-COVID-19 patients and to free up room for those diagnosed with COVID-19. Outpatient imaging facilities are especially at risk, experiencing a 70% drop in imaging.

Those in low-income communities and rural areas especially depend on routine office visits and diagnostic testing for revenue, with healthcare policy experts worried that social distancing and stay-at-home orders will force these institutions to become financially ruined and close their practices.

“If those practices shut down then the access problems that already exist in those communities, and the disparity in care, could be exacerbated,” Ateev Mehrotra, healthcare policy associate professor at Harvard Medical School, told Reuters.

Many practices estimate further delays of four-to-six months for each month of lockdown, with most facing large backlogs of routine visits and screenings that were deferred.

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