When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, offices and businesses closed, people’s homes started doubling as work or school, and just about every regular routine got upended. Among those routines were regular medical and dental visits.

Medical facilities across the country — as well as right here in the Northwest — have noted a significant drop in people seeking health care, as appointments got postponed because of office closures, job and insurance changes, new transportation challenges, or fears about contracting the virus.

An Uptick in Cardiac Emergencies

However, health emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes, have not stopped. In fact, the U.S. has seen a 4.8% increase in deaths from heart disease in 2020 — the largest increase in heart disease death since 2012.1

“Cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in the U.S. If you have a heart problem during this pandemic, please do not delay your cardiovascular care,” says Isidore Dinga Madou, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

If you have a heart problem, whether sudden or long-standing, working with a doctor is a must. But in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, not everyone is getting medical help for heart issues — even potentially serious ones, such as heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

Why aren’t people going to the doctor? Some are afraid of catching COVID-19 virus at health care facilities. People living with heart problems might be especially wary, since cardiovascular conditions are associated with severe COVID-19 and a higher risk of death.

“Even minor health problems can get worse if not treated, which is actually more dangerous than the virus itself,” says Dr. Dinga.

A Drop in Essential Dental Care

If you’ve put off seeing a dentist or doctor or bringing your kids in for their appointments, you’re not alone. Dr. Katherine Lane, a Kaiser Permanente pediatric dentist and a parent herself, understands perfectly. “Everybody’s off their game,” says Dr. Lane. “Keeping track of preventive care, whether it’s eye care or vaccines children are due for, it’s just kind of gotten lost.” She shared that pediatric dental visits in the Kaiser Permanente system have dropped 40% compared with pre-COVID days.2

That is troubling because the longer dental issues go untreated, the more involved treatment can be. In addition, when kids are young, they are in the process of establishing healthy habits. Disrupting regular dental visits can result in bad habits setting in and in children getting “out of practice” at being a dental patient, which can lead to more anxiety when they return.

Safety Protocols in Place for Care

With news about COVID-19 risk and guidelines changing frequently, it can be hard to know what’s safe and which health concerns to prioritize. However, patients can be assured that Kaiser Permanente’s medical and dental offices are open for all their needs — from regular checkups and screenings to urgent care.

And with new safety protocols in place, visits are as safe as can be. Current practices include temperature checks upon entrance, enforced physical distancing and limits to the number of people who can be in waiting areas, frequent sterilization of surfaces, full safety gear for staff, and even the use of specialized air filters in some cases.

With community vaccination rates increasing and strict safety measures in place, now is a great time to get you and your family’s health care back on track.

To learn more about how Kaiser Permanente is helping keep patients safe when they come in for care, visit kp.org/covid.

1“Deaths in America climbed by 18% in 2020 — and Covid-19 wasn't the only cause,” Advisory Board, advisory.com/daily-briefing/2021/04/01/coronavirus, accessed April 12, 2021.

2Kaiser Permanente internal data, data covering the period from January 2019 through March 2021.

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