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Pandemic led to cancellation, postponement of 30 percent of health-care visits

Many older people have since gotten the treatment they needed, but a number of them have not, research says

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In 2021, 30 percent of health-care appointments held by older adults were postponed or canceled for pandemic-related reasons, according to research by Michigan Medicine’s National Poll on Healthy Aging. The disruptions included scheduled checkups with a primary care doctor or dentist as well as appointments for a variety of medical tests, procedures and operations.

Based on data from a nationally representative sample of 1,011 adults 50 and older, the researchers found that, as of January, most people have either received the care that had been postponed or have rescheduled their appointment (50 percent for dental care, 72 percent for tests and procedures, 76 percent for primary care visits). But, they expressed concern about the number of people who had not yet rescheduled or did not intend to (for dental care: 37 percent; for tests and procedures: 26 percent; for doctor visits: 22 percent).

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In all areas, rescheduling was much more probable among vaccinated people than unvaccinated (64 percent vs. 30 percent for dental care; 81 percent vs. 44 percent for tests and procedures; 85 percent vs. 53 percent for doctor visits).

Not getting needed care comes with an array of potential health and wellness consequences. For instance, tooth decay that needs a simple filling but is not treated could progress to requiring a root canal, which is more complicated and more expensive; the cause of a pain cannot be diagnosed and could become chronic without a doctor’s examination; cancer may not be detected and could advance because of a missed screening.

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One researcher said that although appointments had been derailed by the pandemic, people should remember that “covid-19 is not the only risk to health.”

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