People don’t go to their PCPs. Here’s how to get them back.

CDC figures from June 2020 show that about 41% of adults had chosen to delay visiting a medical provider. Now, more than 20 months later, the avoidance of care for common chronic and acute illnesses has only gotten worse.

Just months into the pandemic, many people had begun to put their health care needs on hold. CDC figures from June 2020 show that about 41% of adults had chosen to delay visiting a medical provider. Now, more than 20 months later, the avoidance of care for common chronic and acute illnesses has only gotten worse.

Instead of going for medicals or exams, people put them off. Why? The root causes are many. Many simply decided that going to a doctor or a medical center was not worth the possibility of being exposed to a contagious disease. Some no longer have health coverage after losing their jobs. Others don’t want to spend money on copays, especially with rising inflation.

The result of all these postponements is just beginning to come to light, and it’s downright scary. Take expected death rates, for example. Life expectancy rates have fallen by 1.5 years in 2020 alone. Although this is mainly due to pandemic-related deaths, avoidance of health care could make matters worse. When people skip years of going to the doctor, they lose touch with their overall health. They also expose themselves to the risk of late diagnosis of costly problems.

Cancer, for example, is best identified and treated in its early stages. Waiting too long can place a financial burden on patients, their families and the healthcare system. Additionally, if everyone starts going back to the doctor after years of personal neglect, providers may suffer additional burnout from a sicker patient load. And the last thing healthcare workers need is more turnover.

So what are the answers to this problem? How can we ensure success and better experiences? Below are some ways to untangle the knot and prevent much of the population from suffering needlessly on the road.

1. Healthcare entities can educate consumers.

Remember those massive public education campaigns dedicated to prioritizing smoking cessation? Or those designed to promote mental health awareness? Health organizations and influential nonprofits could engage in similar initiatives to get people back to their normal health care screening routines and fulfill the promise of their future.

Such initiatives would require smaller initial financial investments today, but could save untold dollars over the coming decades. Remember: prevention is always cheaper than intervention. Preventing a heart attack from happening is better for every part of the healthcare structure, from the patient to the insurance company.

2. Patients can learn innovative ways to make self-care a priority.

Patients may be reluctant to consult health care providers. Nonetheless, they can learn to perform self-exams and even use wellness technology at home. Many technical innovations allow consumers to track their vital signs. And if they notice any issues, they can contact their primary care providers right away.

It’s not hard to imagine a day when patients will take more control of their health through technologies like apps. The company adapted fairly quickly to using apps like Uber and DoorDash to meet its basic needs. Embracing the use of wearable sensors and intuitively designed diagnostic devices doesn’t seem like such a stretch. There is endless potential here.

3. Providers can remain open to telemedicine but encourage in-person visits.

The rise of telehealth has opened doors and filled gaps in healthcare. However, telemedicine is not suitable for all patient needs. Patients and their physicians should work together to determine when remote treatment makes sense versus when in-office check-in might be more convenient.

Adapting the patient-provider relationship will take time. Yet it can help providers encourage reluctant patients to return. The longer patients delay their wellness visits, the more likely they are to get used to this unhealthy practice. If doctors and other providers step in confidently now, they can avoid a host of problems in the years to come.

The prevalence of COVID in our lives requires flexible thinking. We cannot put off routine health care maintenance indefinitely. Fortunately, it is not impossible to solve problems without a clear solution. Action is the key. Now is the time to identify, design and develop a solution to address the backlog of routine healthcare maintenance among adults and families. Otherwise, it will become a “pay now or pay later” situation – and the final price will be far too unpleasant.

Marc Helberg is the Senior Vice President of the Philadelphia office of Pariveda, a consulting firm committed to creating innovative, growth-oriented, people-centric solutions.

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