Deferred care: long term impacts of the pandemic

A report from Humana and Medical Group Management Association found 97% of practices reported a drop in patient volumes by early April 2020, with 87% of respondents citing safety as the top reason for deferring care during the pandemic. 

By June 30th, 41% of U.S adults had delayed or avoided medical care.


Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.


Deferring medical care can cause serious financial and health implications. It can lead to higher health care costs and unhealthier outcomes for many patients according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A patient’s health may deteriorate when they defer care, making an already bad situation far worse. 

According to the National Cancer Institute, data suggests the U.S. could see an extra 10,000 deaths from breast and colorectal cancer alone over the next 10 years due to deferred care during the pandemic. This is an increase of roughly 1%, from these two tumor types, which together account for about one-sixth of all cancer deaths.

Steven Hall, Medical Affairs Executive Director at Genentech, says they’re seeing delays in preventive care.

“We’re seeing less routine cancer care screenings, across breast, lung, dermatology, GI etc. That is leading to delayed care diagnosis, and as a result, higher morbidity and mortality potentially.” 

I think all of us want to be as careful and as safe as we can be, and so by deferring care, it’s the old step on the balloon phenomenon: if you push one place, it pops out somewhere else, and that’s our biggest concern.”


Innovations and advancements due to deferred care

Hall says delayed care can also cause a delay in taking or administering certain medications.

“In some cases we have agents that are now available for home administration, or subcutaneous administration in the office, whereas they might have been on an infusion before. And so, therefore less office time. Patients would feel a little safer in that regard, if their concern is exposure to COVID.”

Hall says the rapid adoption of telehealth during the pandemic has helped combat some of the negative impacts of deferred care. 

“Telehealth is the biggest [advancement during the pandemic]. It’ll be interesting to see how that impacts long term care. I think there’s still some number of patients that are going to utilize telehealth continuously. I think it also might boil down to between the patient and the provider, depending on the level of care needed. There’s probably certain things that can be done remotely that maybe weren’t being done that way before”.