QUICK READ: Various estimates suggest that the pandemic might plausibly lead to national health spending in 2020 that is 10% higher than in 2019. If GDP were unchanged, this increase in health care spending alone would increase the share of GDP devoted to health care spending by 10%; the share would increase from the current 17.8% to 19.6% in a single year. But we’re not talking about the virus itself, it’s because people are not visiting their doctors or getting cancer screenings.
The direct casualties of Covid-19 will probably be counted in recorded deaths but the indirect consequences are yet to unfold. For cancer, there are worrying signs that a catastrophe is heading our way.
The survival of most cancers is linked to the stage at diagnosis. Early (at stages 1 or 2) gives a significantly better outcome, with an 80 percent chance of surviving five years or more. In later stages (3 or 4), when cancer has spread, survival drops to 40 percent.
According to STAT News “appointments for screenings for cancers of the cervix, colon, and breast were down between 86% and 94% in March, compared to average volumes in the three years before the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the U.S.
In addition to the delay in cancer screenings, America is on the verge of another health crisis, with daily doses of death, isolation, and fear generating widespread psychological trauma.
Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide. Just as the initial coronavirus outbreak caught hospitals unprepared, the country’s mental health system — vastly underfunded, fragmented, and difficult to access before the pandemic — is even less prepared to handle this coming surge.
Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Roughly 20,000 people texted that hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, last month.
Researchers have created models — based on data collected after natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and economic downturns — that show a likely increase in suicides, overdose deaths, and substance use disorders.
The Challenge for Pharma
Clearly, the challenge for pharma is going to be getting patients into their doctor to ask about new treatments for potential health problems and to ensure that they get screened for cancer.
It’s going to be difficult but the communication to patients has to be “not talking to your doctor about potential health issues or getting screened for cancer could have dire health implications not to mention the costs to our healthcare.
Right now we should be listening to patients as we ask them “what will it take to get you back into the doctor’s office?”. Testing of various incentives, along with reasons why need to be adequately communicated as well.
If we wait, or do nothing, the consequences are going to cost us all.