Dr. Scott Gottleib, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and resident at the American Enterprise Insititute, warns of the “broad public health impacts” of people too scared to see their doctors — even for cancer treatments — during the Wuhan Virus shutdown. Gottlieb tweeted that “data from community cancer practices shows sharp drops in oncology visits,” including a steep “17% decline for chemotherapy in Northeast.” He also reports that cancelations and no-shows have doubled, which means people in need of “elective” cancer screenings aren’t getting them. Telemedicine “visits” are up, but not nearly enough to make up the difference. New cancer patient visits are down by more than a third.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a big, steaming bowl of Not Good.
In a report for The Cancer Letter, Matthew Bin Han Ong spoke with Dr. Bobby Green (no relation), chief medical officer for Flatiron Health. Dr. Green said, “We’ve seen a drop-off in new patient visits. We’ve seen a drop-off in chemotherapy visits. We’ve seen a drop-off in follow-up appointments. We’ve seen an increase in cancellations. This puts many practices at risk.”
Not to mention the risk to potential cancer patients who aren’t getting screened, and current cancer patients who are skipping chemo treatments out of fear of the Wuhan Virus. As Dr. Green noted, it isn’t just cancer patients:
You’ve read that people aren’t showing up at hospitals for strokes, people aren’t even showing up for appendicitis, which is just mind-boggling to me. The incidence of appendectomies at hospitals has gone down. What’s happening to all those people suffering from appendicitis?
When are we going to start seeing the people who developed a cough that might’ve been a sign of lung cancer? Or who had a mass that was a lymphoma, who normally would’ve gone to see their doctor but have delayed it?
CBS’s Rikki Klieman tweeted to Gottlieb that in New York City, “people are afraid of going anywhere near a hospital or medical center right now even if their appointments were not already cancelled [sic] by the doctor’s office.”
The whole point of flattening the curve was to prevent the infection rate from overwhelming the medical system’s ability to treat sick people, whether they were infected by the Wuhan Virus, had a broken arm, required chemotherapy, etc. We were very fortunate that we did indeed flatten the curve, and although things were dicey in New York City for a short while, the medical system never became overwhelmed.
The thing to remember is, absent a vaccine that might never come, the Wuhan virus is here to stay. Many more will get infected, and yes some — almost all with preexisting conditions — will die. That’s the nature of a pandemic. But we’ve done the hard work of preventing the worst-case scenario, where overwhelmed hospitals stack up bodies like cordwood while turning away cancer patients, those in need of emergency medicine, etc. But we’ve put such a scare into people, that the Wuhan Virus is causing people to miss out on cancer treatments, emergency medicine, etc. — as though we never did flatten the curve.
Having deftly avoided the frying pan, we’ve frightened sick people into jumping directly into the fire.
This is insanity, and it has to stop.