U.S. Sees Dramatic Drop in Routine Testing Amid Pandemic

Diagnostic testing for cancer and other conditions has declined across the U.S. since mid-March following regional lockdowns for the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by health-care analytics firm Komodo Health.

Based on an analysis of billing records of 320 million patients from March 19 to April 20, Komodo Health found cervical cancer screenings dropped 68%, cholesterol panels fell by 67%, and diabetes detection testing was down 65% nationally. The greatest drop-offs were found in areas severely affected by the pandemic, such as New York City, where blood tests for diabetes dropped by more than 90%; Massachusetts, where cholesterol testing fell 80.5%; and California, where cervical cancer screening dropped by 76.3%. Another study from Harvard University found outpatient office visits also fell nearly 60% starting in mid-March and remained low through April.

“We’re seeing a tremendous impact on preventive care, as well as on chronic conditions with massive implications for the healthcare system,” said Arif Nathoo, MD, CEO and co-founder of Komodo Health.

As patients postpone routine testing, the backlog for hospitals and clinics increases, creating future challenges for physicians. Several small practices reported to Reuters that they estimate a 4- to 6-month delay in testing for each month of lockdown that prevents routine screening.

Medical testing, and the subsequent office visits, surgeries, and treatments, are a key source of revenue for health-care systems that had to pause lucrative elective procedures to create space for the surge of patients with COVID-19. While diagnostic screening may not be as profitable for hospitals and physicians as elective surgeries, routine office visits and examinations sustain many small medical practices, particularly in low-income and rural communities that were already struggling prior to the outbreak. Nineteen rural hospitals shut their doors in 2019, the highest number of annual closures in a decade, and without revenue from regular patients, health-care systems in these areas are at risk of further financial troubles.

Source: Reuters, April 28, 2020.