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On Call: An Ounce of Prevention

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 23:04

As a primary care physician, much of my job involves what is known as preventive medicine. There are many excellent definitions of what precisely preventive medicine entails, but in general, it involves promoting activities and interventions that help keep people healthy and trying to prevent disease before it occurs or, at the very least, catch it as early as possible. This means that we discuss healthy food choices, how to stay physically active, and review/recommend the many screening methods for chronic disease such as heart disease, cancers, and mental health disorders that cause the majority of what ails us. 

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the biggest concerns for the health care community has been not only the actual effects of the novel coronavirus itself but also the secondary impacts upon people's health and well-being. There were concerns about how increasing numbers of patients with Covid-19 might overwhelm the clinics and hospitals in terms of simple numbers, but the impact upon preventive health was also very worrisome. 

Because of the fears of public transmission of the virus and needs for social distancing, many clinics were shut down, or hours/options for clinical care were reduced or changed drastically. As a result, things like annual exams, colonoscopies, Pap smears, and mammograms were put off for another day as we all focused on the immediate problem at hand. 

Of course, nobody is completely out of the woods yet. Across the nation, many localities still fight tooth and nail against Covid-19, and a number of states are seeing rising numbers, including New York. But in our medical offices and hospitals, we have returned to some degree of normalcy in many places, and slowly patients are trickling back in for their usual care. A delicate balance between social distancing efforts and the need for urgent and routine medical care has been struck, and it's an important one that needs emphasizing.

We opened the office I work in on Shelter Island in May of this year, and I became full time there in July. In the short amount of time I've been working, I've seen a level of acuity and uncontrolled medical conditions that many times have surpassed anything I'd seen in my training. I've seen patients who struggled with new complaints of pain or shortness of breath for months and put off seeking medical care because of fear of the virus. Finally, we're starting to get many of these acute issues under control, but not a week goes by that somebody doesn't present with a complaint that regular screening and preventive measures might have caught six months ago and made easier to treat instead of harder. 

Which is why I want to encourage you all to be sure to not only keep doing your part to fight the Covid-19 pandemic through wearing masks and socially distancing, but also be sure to stay on top of your regular medical care. The longer these vital components of health and wellness are allowed to fall by the wayside, the harder it will be to overcome the lost opportunities for early detection and intervention. It is almost always easier to prevent a condition or disease then to treat it once it occurs, and this is as true of obesity as it is of colorectal cancer. Colonoscopies so often work because they allow gastroenterologists to find abnormal growths in the colon while the growths are still pre-cancerous and remove them immediately. 

So if you've put off your annual physical or avoided scheduling your colonoscopy, please consider doing them now. Every doctor's office and hospital I know has rigorous protocols in place in terms of cleaning and protective equipment to keep people as safe from Covid-19 as possible, and most places will be more than happy to review them with you for your peace of mind before you come in. If you don't think a trip to your doctor's office is worth exposure to the novel coronavirus just to discuss your eating habits, then make a virtual visit via telemedicine with your doctor. 

However you approach it, don't let Covid-19 take away your chance to be a healthier person along with everything else the pandemic has stolen this year. 
Joshua Potter, D.O., is a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice who specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. He oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.


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