One-third of older Americans delayed healthcare over COVID concerns

June 22, 2021

Nearly one in three Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 put off an in-person appointment for medical care in 2020 because they were worried about exposure to the novel coronavirus, new national poll data show, addressed Kara Gavin in a post on the Michigan Health blog.

The findings suggest that even though most healthcare settings adapted early to reduce patients’ exposure risk from staff and fellow patients, concern about exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 was enough to cause them to delay already scheduled care. The percentage was even higher among older people who have asthma (37%), who are Black (40%), and who report that their mental health is fair or poor (45%). Men, and those over 65, were less likely to say they’d delayed care, with 27% of both groups saying they had put off seeing a doctor, nurse or other health professional due to COVID concerns. Even 24% of people with cancer, 29% of people with diabetes and 30% of people with heart conditions, said they had put off at least one in-person visit.

The findings, from the National Poll on Healthy Aging based at the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, come from a poll taken in January. The poll receives support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

“While telehealth has made it possible for many older adults to see providers virtually, and patient portals allow them to message their providers and see their records, we know from past polls that not all older adults are comfortable or experienced with these technologies,” said Preeti Malani, M.D. “And of course, some forms of care, and nearly all diagnostic tests and preventive screening, can only be provided in person.”

The new poll results build on past findings from the poll about older adults’ reluctance to seek emergency care during the pandemic. A poll report released in December based on a poll taken in June 2020 showed that 86% of older adults were concerned about COVID-19 exposure if they went to the emergency department. Data from that same time period showed that 26% of older adults had at least one telehealth visit with a health care provider between March and May of 2020, when many elective health services were postponed by providers, often under public health provisions in states and cities. And 45% of older adults had not established a patient portal account that would allow them to communicate with their health providers, or potentially schedule a COVID-19 vaccination, the poll team reported early this year.

The new poll data do not include information about what percentage of older adults rescheduled a delayed appointment, or when in the pandemic they had delayed a scheduled visit.

Michigan Health has the post

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.