‘A big concern’: Hospitals see decline in patients seeking preventive care such as mammograms


When people were instructed to stay home in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many took it literally, even when it came to their health. Dr. Julia Compton, a radiation oncology physician at Hancock Health, said there was a sharp decline in patients seeking preventive health care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

“With the spread of COVID, I think what happened is, the medical community put out the information to everyone of ‘stay home,’ and that was before universal masking,” Compton said. “Everyone is trying to understand what’s happening, but what that did, I think, was made people nervous to come to the hospital, nervous to go to the doctor, and so all the things we know we are supposed to do, we quit doing. For women, especially, it was mammograms. For everyone, it was colonoscopies. It goes through the gamut, even little kids and vaccinations.

“So, there is this very big concern that, not right now, but within the next year what we are going to start seeing as people come back is, all the things that got put on hold or put on the back burner, we will see things showing up later than we normally would.”

In the past several years, technology for early cancer detection has advanced dramatically, but it does not good if patients don’t get screened.

“Taking the example of breast cancer. What (detection) used to be not long ago is that you felt a lump,” Compton said. “Most breast cancers nowadays are diagnosed before you can feel anything, so even a breast cancer the size of a pea has a very high cure rate. It’s usually a mammogram picking them up before you could ever feel that tiny pea shape of cancer in your breast. But now with COVID, and with everybody being anxious about coming into the hospital or going into a doctor’s office, we are seeing people delay that.

“The worry now is that people are going to miss big, preventive pieces of their health that could have implications down the road. That is the biggest worry for all of us physicians.”

To encourage patients to seek preventive care, Hancock Health has expanded hours at each of its sites. It also launched a social media campaign to get the word out.  However, Hancock Health and hospitals nationwide still aren’t seeing a high demand for preventive health care.

“We are seeing a slight increase, but I think we all thought as we got more comfortable with COVID, and what I mean by that is we understood it a little bit better and understood how to work with it and how to take care of people with it, we thought we would see this huge influx of patients coming in, and we are not seeing that,” Compton said. “No one is seeing that across the nation. The number of patients coming to any health care organization dropped by 10 percent, and that is a very, very big concern.”

Hancock Health serves McCordsville, Fortville, Greenfield and other cities and towns in the county.

“Blessed in Central Indiana”

Dr. Julia Compton said central Indiana patients are fortunate because all of the area’s hospitals are adequately equipped to treat cancer patients.

“There are so many hospitals and health care organizations and all of them have basically the same level of technology, which is kind of fantastic,” Compton said. “So, let’s say I’m a radiation doctor and let’s say you need breast cancer radiation, the technology is going to be same here that you would find at Community, that you would find at IU, that you would find at St. Vincent and at Hendricks. Across the board in regard to cancer treatment and in regard to technology in central Indiana, we are in this incredible area because everybody has the same technology.

“So, really, when you think about cancer care, you can do it in your own backyard. That’s not the same across the U.S. You may live in an area where you have to drive an hour or two hours to get to good technology or to get to a location that has the services you need, but in central Indiana, that’s not what the cancer scene looks like.”

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