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UW Health: Stress from the pandemic and skipped doctor appointments contributing to sicker patients

Many patients are seeking delayed care and that's leading to an avalanche of appointments

Hospital hallway
Molly Riley/AP Photo

People who were unable or unwilling to go in for routine health care because of fear of contracting COVID-19 are now seeking appointments and waiting longer to see a doctor at UW Health. The delay is not only from pent-up demand, but workforce shortages and more ailments brought on by the stress of the pandemic, according to the health system.

As primary care doctor, Sandra Kamnetz has seen patients with significant issues: patients who gained so much weight it contributed to a diagnosis of diabetes, or women who put off a mammogram for two years to later find out they have cancer after coming in for a checkup.

“People are also more anxious and depressed and that means they’re not sleeping, not taking care of themselves, and it becomes a vicious cycle,” said Kamnetz, pointing out that stress can reduce the strength of a person’s immune system and ability to fight off infection.

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About 40 percent of adults report struggling with mental health or substance abuse during the pandemic, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, and there are indications people aren’t getting as much exercise.

A statewide survey of 1,889 people showed about 48 percent said they were less active than before the pandemic. This data, from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, also shows preventative health care appointments were the most likely to be canceled since July 1, 2020.

Kamnetz, who is vice chair of clinical care and family medicine at UW Health, urged people to get routine screenings and seek preventative care — even if they have to wait.

The hospital is seeing fewer cases of COVID-19, she said, but other medical conditions are filling up emergency rooms and urgent care clinics.

The number of people hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 has dropped in the past two weeks. On Oct. 11, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported 1,179 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized. On Monday, that number had dropped to 972.

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