With medical services backlogged, self-advocacy is prescribed
By Chris Wilson
The voice on the phone is brisk but friendly.
“Diagnostic Imaging Centre. How can I help you?”
“I’d like to book a mammogram, please.” It’s a call you want to make. If you’ve been putting off seeing a doctor, having a suspicious mole checked, getting blood work done or booking a routine health screen, act now. More importantly, you need to be an assertive self-advocate to access the preventative care that will help you stay well. After all, there are consequences to putting your health on hold.
“Delayed and missed health care may have contributed to more than 4,000 excess deaths not related to COVID-19 between August and December 2020” alone, a report from the Canadian Medial Association (CMA) declares.
Released in November 2021, the report suggests people have died in ways indirectly related to the pandemic “because the care they needed was delayed or missed, because they were more hesitant than usual to seek care, because they were affected by the increased incidence of mental health disorders or substance use, or because they may have experienced a deterioration in another determinant of health.”
Early in the pandemic there were health service shutdowns, but now virtual and in-person visits, diagnostic tests and screening tests are available. People may be putting off routine care, though, because they’re concerned about exposure to then virus in medical settings. But experts say the potential risk of postponing some tests is greater than the risk of contracting the virus at the doctor’s office.*
Even if you keep your scheduled appointments or call promptly to get nagging symptoms addressed, you’re still apt to wait longer for care than you did pre-COVID-19.
Not only have wait times increased, “the pandemic has created a backlog of almost 20 million medical services,” says Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).
“That’s preventative care, cancer screenings, surgeries and procedures, routine immunizations and diagnostic tests. Doctors are already seeing patients who are sicker than they should be because of serious conditions undetected or untreated during the pandemic.”
Considering COVID-19 has been the public health focus for over two years, it stands to reason personal health concerns may have been overlooked. In the midst of shifting government regulations and unease about the latest coronavirus variant, your aches, pains, lumps, fatigue or weight loss might seem insignificant.
It’s not. As the Canadian Cancer Society notes at cancer.ca, “Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic. Get changes checked sooner rather than later. That change to your body might be nothing, but it might be serious.”
If anything is wrong, you want to catch it while it’s minor— and treatable. Cancer Care Ontario makes that clear: “When colorectal cancer is caught early enough through screening, someone with the disease has a nine out of 10 chance of being cured,” the organization reports at cancercareontario.ca. “Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable with regular screening, appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal Pap test results and human papillomavirus (HPV) immunization.” It also points out both breast and lung cancer screening can find cancer early, when treatment has a better chance.
Last fall, the Ontario Medical Association released Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care, following consultation with health-care providers and input from almost 8,000 people via an online survey. Even then, before the latest wave took over, respondents identified a key issue as access to health care: too long of a wait for services and too few doctors where people live in Ontario.
The delays are real; so is the necessity for early detection and prompt treatment of what ails you. That means making the phone call, being persistent and asking to be put on cancellation lists. If you don’t have a family doctor to start with, register for the Health Care Connect Program at hcc3.hcc.moh.gov.on.ca or call 1 800-445-1822.