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Americans skip more outpatient procedures and health screenings, doctor says

"We find that this big decline is independent of state closures or stay at home orders really," said Dr. Engy Ziedan, assistant professor of economics at Tulane.

NEW ORLEANS — The pandemic did more than keep Americans at home and force them to wear masks when they go out. It is keeping them away from doctors, treating other health needs, and that is making people sick.

But it is also causing a major increase for one group of health care specialists.

In mid-march, many Americans stopped do something important, caring for their own health.

"We find that this big decline is independent of state closures or stay at home orders really," said Dr. Engy Ziedan, assistant professor of economics at Tulane University.  

That big decline is 40 percent fewer outpatient visits across the U.S. Dr. Ziedan found that number by looking at the health records of 35 million Americans. 

When it comes to visits to an orthopedic doctor, those went down by 60 percent.

"We are worried about painful conditions. Orthopedic painful conditions — that pain gets really complicated, and long term chronic pain could lead to chronic use of opioids," said Dr. Ziedan.

It is even more concerning in the context of heart disease and regular cancer screenings. Each year, 1.6 million Americans die of cancer and heart disease.

"So we're fighting a war against the pandemic, but we don't want to be losing the war against two other major chronic diseases that contribute to the death toll," she said.

But Dr. Ziedan found something else. Mental health doctor visits didn't decrease as much and rebounded fast. Tulane social worker Dr. Maurya Glaude said the need is tremendous, and thanks to telemedicine treatments from home, people are getting help. 

"Lots of parents are asking for help with coping, because there's this new expectation to teach from home, to work from home, to manage all of the expectations while maintaining one's mental health," said Dr. Maurya W. Glaude, Tulane School of Social Work Director of Field Education, a professor of the practice, researcher, and licensed clinical social worker.

She has many former patients in need and many new ones. Relationships are stressed.

"Couples are quarreling, and we are seeing a high levels of stress with couples being home in the same space, as well as not having outlets that they might have had," said Dr. Glaude.

She and other therapists are helping people with communication. Their goal during all the challenges is family preservation. 

Dr. Ziedan says fear of contracting the coronavirus was part of what was keeping people from going to the doctor for health exams. And while people are starting to go back, it is still not as many as before the pandemic.

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