The Consequences of Delays in Surgeries and Preventive Screenings Due to COVID-19

Delays in preventive screening exams can exacerbate diseases and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer if they go undiagnosed, unmonitored and untreated. Research indicates that over the next decade there will be a stark increase in the number of people who will die from breast or colorectal cancer because of COVID-19’s impact on routine screening exams. 

The consequences of delays with surgery may become more apparent in the form of longer treatment queues, leading to worsening of diseases and increased mortality. Recent suspensions of elective procedures in many parts of the state will likely contribute to these problems. Likewise, high infection rates of COVID-19 variants could cause primary care practices to experience a backlog of patients. According to one multicenter study, the lengthened waiting times for surgeries and primary medicine may be reflected in increased mortality and a need for more complex surgery or advanced treatments as disease processes continue to progress without timely intervention. Unfortunately, this can also lead to an increase in professional liability claims against healthcare providers.

Dr. Nathalie DougĂ©, a traveling hospitalist who has worked in both New York City and Montana, says “This is not the time to be in a motor-vehicle accident because the care that we would love to give you is severely hindered by exhaustion, by understaffing, limited resources. No matter what we can do as an individual, collectively, the system is on the brink.”

Dr. Bruce Farber, the chief of public health and epidemiology at New York’s Northwell Health fears that despite being vaccinated, frontline workers will inevitably test positive and need to quarantine, meaning fewer healthcare professionals will be available to treat patients.

There is a backlog in emergency departments across the United States being created by the Omicron variant.  There is not enough room for all the sick and injured people to receive the emergency care they need. People are waiting, hoping that a room might open up.

“I do think it’s going to be a real rough six weeks for sure,” Farber said. Doctors and nurses say there’s no end in sight, and people are likely dying in the shadows of this wave of infections.

ER doctors say this COVID-19 wave is forcing them to deny treatment to other patients who can die as a result: “Every shift I’m working these days is like the worst shift in my career.”

While MLMIC cannot predict the end to this pandemic, we understand care is being delayed and there are a few things our insureds can do to minimize their risk. Continue to encourage patients to follow through on preventative procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies. As COVID-19 infection rates continue to wax and wane, be prepared to discuss these circumstances as well as the risk involved in delaying such care. The same could be said for surgeries as well. Most important, document these discussions and follow up in the medical record.