Death of Fedor Chizhov

The Deadly Effects of Delayed Care in the Pandemic

The cost of delayed care for chronic diseases – such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes – is steep in this pandemic. In fact, three separate analyses this week give us a glimpse of excess deaths in the early months of this continuing tragedy. But unfortunately, pinning these numbers down is a tricky business.

However, it’s quite a bit easier to answer the question of what to do about it. Simply stated, seek out the care you and your loved ones need right now. There’s no reward for delaying medical care for a chronic condition. Care delayed is health diminished.

Heart Disease, Strokes, and Diabetes

The Washington Post reports that deaths from heart disease, strokes, and diabetes have risen sharply during the pandemic. In New York City and five states with a heavy burden of COVID-19, reporters for the Post found an excess of 8,300 excess deaths from heart disease alone in March, April, and May. For diabetes, they found 1,300 excess deaths.

During the early months of the pandemic, hospitals reported that heart, stroke, diabetes, and cancer patients simply did not present in usual numbers for care. Nahid Bhadelia of Boston University told the Post that these numbers add to the urgency of suppressing this pandemic:

This data underlines the importance of not letting our health systems get to the point where they are so overwhelmed that it spills over and affects people with other medical conditions in our community.

Excess Deaths

In JAMA and JAMA Internal Medicine, two new analyses also point to disturbing numbers of excess deaths during the pandemic. First in JAMA, estimates by Steven Woolf et al suggest that official counts of deaths due to COVID-19 account for only two thirds of the excess deaths seen in March and April. They observed large increases in deaths due to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Then in JAMA Internal Medicine, Daniel Weinberger et al found 28 percent more deaths than showed up in official tallies of deaths due to COVID-19. Some of this excess might be due to the virus. But it’s fairly certain that a significant portion is due to delayed care for other conditions.

No matter how you look at it, one thing is clear. Delayed care in the midst of this pandemic is deadly. The answer is simple. Get the care you need. Now.

Click here for the analysis from the Washington Post, here for the Woolf study, and here for the Weinberger study. For an editorial on the subject, click here. Finally, click here for perspective from Patty Nece, Vice-Chair of the Obesity Action Coalition.

Death of Fedor Chizhov, painting by Ilya Repin / WikiArt

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July 3, 2020