COVID policies have increased deaths from cancer and heart disease

In response to COVID, hospitals and health systems suspended elective procedures, sometimes by order of governors and sometimes at their own decision, and have switched from in-person visits to telemedicine visits.*  In other words, we have basically discouraged everyone from going to the doctor for anything other than COVID, and when people insist on seeing a doctor anyway, we shunt them to telemedicine where they are less likely to be treated or diagnosed properly and certainly less likely to feel that their doctor cares about them.

There have been many reports that cancer diagnoses are down in the U.S.  That is not because fewer people are getting cancer; it is because fewer people with cancer are being diagnosed.  That will ultimately lead to more cancer deaths.  Presumably fewer people with heart disease or other serious and life threatening illnesses are being diagnosed or treated also.

A study estimated for Great Britain about 3400 additional deaths for the 4 most common cancers over a 5 year period due to excess missed diagnoses during COVID (reference 1).  Projected to the U.S. population size, that would be 17,000 additional deaths in the U.S. That is just the 4 most common cancers, adding missed diagnoses of other cancers, heart disease, and other life-threatening conditions the number of excess deaths from would certainly exceed 20,000 and probably 30,000.  Relative to our estimate of 200,000 COVID deaths averted by our lockdown response to COVID that would be 10 to 15 total excess deaths caused by missed diagnoses and forestalled treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses per 100 COVID deaths averted.

*Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have also mostly switched to counseling by video, which seems particularly unwise and unkind to me because most of their clients need counseling because of the loss of face-to-face contact with other humans because of our COVID restrictions.  The primary thing the patients need is face-to-face interaction with a caring human being, which is the primary mission of psychological counseling—yet most counselors are refusing to give them that, either because their health systems will not let them or because the counselors have an excessive fear of contracting COVID.

References:

  1. Maringe, C et al. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer deaths due to delays in diagnosis in England, UK: a national, population-based, modelling study.  The Lancet 21:1023-1034. July 20, 2020 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(20)30388-0

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