Policy experts call for renewed focus on cardiovascular disease, public health as COVID-19 crisis shows signs of improvement

The world has spent nearly two years now focused on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—and with good reason—but are other important healthcare issues now being ignored?

A new analysis from the Boston-based Pioneer Institute examined that issue at length, warning that the United States has seen significant reductions in such areas as health screenings, primary care visits and key medication prescriptions

“There have been regular admonitions to practice social distancing and wear a mask during the pandemic to protect our health and the health of those we know,” author William Smith, PhD, said in a prepared statement. “But during that time, public health officials have ignored the need to make repeated calls to at-risk populations to visit the doctor and get important health screenings. In the absence of these important prevention efforts, we are on the brink of a public health challenge, worsening patient outcomes, and additional healthcare costs.”

Hyperlipidemia, atrial fibrillation (AFib) and cardiomyopathy are all specifically listed in the report as key issues being overlooked due to the focus on COVID-19. Stress tests that can diagnose AFib, for example, are down approximately 80% in the United States. And this is a trend seen in other countries as well.

As COVID-19 numbers continue to drop and vaccination rates continue to increase throughout the country, Smith called for healthcare providers, policymakers and others to talk more about “the most serious public health challenges looming on the horizon and less about COVID.” He also called out the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), noting that their website could be improved by offering more information related to helping the country bounce back from the pandemic.

“The USPSTF website is populated with many important recommendations on how patients should be screened for various diseases,” Smith wrote. “There are recommendations on screenings for Vitamin D deficiency, colorectal cancer, hypertension, chlamydia, healthy weight, etc. However, there are no statements or recommendations discussing the crisis-level declines in virtually all types of important screenings during COVID. For a body charged with improving ‘the health of the people nationwide’ by offering recommendations on screenings and other preventive measures, this seems quite an omission.”

Smith concluded by emphasizing that, yes, the COVID-19 pandemic “was undoubtedly the most serious public health crisis of recent decades.”

At this moment in time, however, he said “the nation needs to pivot and take more seriously the dangers from more traditional diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease.”

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF on the Pioneer Institute website.

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