Health care on pause?

By Donna Carbell
Head of Group Benefits
Connect with Donna on LinkedIn.

We need to continue looking after ourselves, and each other.

We’re seeing hints of spring in Canada, which always gets me excited about the summer and spending more time relaxing with friends and family. And, with mass-vaccination on the horizon, I’m sure like many of you, I’m feeling optimistic about life getting back to ‘normal’ sometime in the not-so-distant future.

For the time being (and for good reason), many of our favorite activities are still on hold. But our own, personal health is one thing that should never be put on pause.

Fewer tests = fewer results

Early in the pandemic, access to doctors and the healthcare system became more complicated. Important tests, assessments, treatments, surgeries and other procedures were delayed while we learned how to cope with the virus.

After the initial lockdown, the system started to play catch up, but some patient behaviours had changed. Some people decided to avoid or delay care. It’s understandable: rather than visit the doctor, people might have reasoned it’s safer to wait the virus out. But the pandemic has lingered and mutated. We’re dealing with a much longer-term disruption than most of us imagined.

A virus rippling across health care

At the end of October, an article in the Globe and Mail reported the pandemic, and people’s response to it, is having significant effects on the health of Canadians.1 Not only in terms of the virus itself, but in the way other diseases are being diagnosed and treated.

Compared to previous years, the Globe and Mail article found strong evidence that serious illnesses are going undiagnosed. Across the country, over last spring and summer, new cancer diagnoses were down anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent from 2019.2 And that has far reaching implications for the healthcare system in terms of outcomes and costs. Not to mention the burden a late diagnosis puts on patients, families, and workplaces.

We don’t believe the pandemic is curing cancer or reducing heart disease, so it could be because people are avoiding appointments, screening, assessments and possibly treatments. We also understand that the longer these diseases go undiagnosed, the more difficult they can be to treat, leading to more severe illnesses and worse outcomes.

This continues to be a concern for health care providers. In a February 2021 report by CBC, Ottawa-area hospitals shared fears that people were taking Ontario’s stay-at-home orders to heart – at the expense of their own essential medical care3.

What’s to be done? I think we can begin by encouraging our families, friends, and colleagues to take care of themselves and continue to keep their medical appointments and routines as much as possible. Yes, it might be less convenient, more complicated, with new procedures to follow, but it might also uncover a condition that could have life altering implications if left undiscovered.

Plan members: take care of yourself – see your doctor

As an employer, you have a business and a workforce to protect. So, you can send a clear message to employees: Look after yourself. Don’t put appointments off. Don’t delay treatments or tests if they’re available. Do all the things you should be doing to take good care of yourself. And make use of the services provided by your benefits plan.

It’s the kind of message that is featured prominently on the Ontario Medical Association’s website:

“Remaining vigilant during the COVID-19 pandemic is essential. While physical distancing is important, addressing your urgent health concerns is a priority, whether it’s in your doctor’s office, a diagnostic or specialty medicine clinic or the emergency room at a hospital. Many patient appointments can be held by phone or through virtual care so call ahead to your doctor’s office to find out how to get the care you need while keeping everyone safe.” 4

As a group benefits provider, I can share with you that we’re looking for new opportunities and partnerships that will allow us to offer programs to make screening easier and more accessible. There’s work to be done, and we’re committed to helping you deliver the right care at the right time for your employees. Because when it comes to medical appointments and tests, Don’t put your health on pause.

1, 2 Globe and Mail, Crucial early cancer diagnoses being missed amid COVID-19 pandemic priorities; (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-crucial-early-cancer-diagnoses-being-missed-amid-covid-19-pandemic); accessed December 3, 2020
3 CBC, Missed appointments, delayed care concern Ottawa hospitals; (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/health-care-ottawa-trend-missed-appointments-delayed-care-1.5899527); accessed February 23, 2021
Ontario Medical Association; www.oma.org; accessed February 23, 2021