Christine Nefcy

Nefcy

The coming of summer in northern Michigan this year looks a lot brighter than in 2020.

The region is approaching 60 percent of our population vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and we are now able to plan family gatherings, maybe enjoy a festival, and return to something more like “normal” life despite the ongoing pandemic challenges.

At Munson Healthcare, we also want to encourage everyone in our region to think about getting themselves and their families back to a more “normal” routine of health checkups and screenings.

During the pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure a safe environment of care because cancer, heart issues, medical emergencies, the need for surgical interventions, and all the health challenges one would expect in a region our size have not taken a day off. Universal masking, hand hygiene, daily screening of all staff, and the evolution of our safety protocols as we understood more about the COVID-19 virus has allowed us to continue safe, effective care.

Initially, many primary care providers and the health system worked hard to implement a viable telemedicine program that has proven to be effective for certain care situations — but we all know some health needs require in-person visits, lab work, radiology exams, and more.

Nationally, those who track medical visits found that primary care visits were down 60 percent in April of 2020. Those numbers rebounded to more normal ranges by the end of the year despite the pandemic surge. However, pediatric visits in December were 24 percent below normal, behavioral health visits were down 10 percent, cardiology visits 6 percent. A medical journal that focuses on cancer care reported that Americans missed 9 million cancer screenings during the pandemic which is leading to a rise in late-stage diagnoses of breast, colon, and prostate cancers.

Munson Healthcare has also experienced similar patient reluctance. Colonoscopies, mammograms, lung cancer, and cervical cancer screenings have been postponed.

During the past year there have been those who ignored chest pain or other serious symptoms because of worries related to the pandemic. Without the pandemic, those same symptoms would have prompted a call to their primary care provider early on. Instead, their condition turned into an Emergency Department visit and life-challenging issues.

We know that normal childhood immunizations have been put off because of the pandemic. When children are behind in their regular immunization schedule, opportunities for vaccine-preventable diseases reappear.

Stress related to the pandemic also has caused many to try and self-medicate with substances instead of reaching out for some help with their depression, anxiety or other behavioral health struggle.

While the pandemic has put many aspects of our lives on pause, it is important to ensure that our health and the health of those we love continues to be addressed. Delaying medical care, ignoring symptoms, or postponing screenings can put one at serious risk.

We encourage everyone in our region to think about scheduling that annual checkup with their primary care provider. For those who do not have a provider, Munson Healthcare can help you find an appropriate provider in your community. Just email FindADoctor@mhc.net.

Anyone experiencing new health issues should feel comfortable reaching out to seek help, including those experiencing mental health challenges. Munson Healthcare offers a list of behavioral health resources on our website, just search under behavioral health services.

Summer of 2021 holds a lot of promise. Let us make that promise a reality by prompting those we love to take the steps necessary to ensure a healthier season of life.

Dr. Christine Nefcy is chief medical officer of Munson Healthcare.

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