An Ounce of Prevention Is Still Worth a Pound of Cure, Especially in the Time of COVID-19

Karen A. Hacker, MD, MPH; Peter A. Briss, MD, MPH


Prev Chronic Dis. 2021;18(1):e03 

In This Article

What Additional Resources do Health Care Systems and Communities Need?

As we seek progress against the pandemic, a backlog of critical chronic disease care will need to be addressed. This backlog could result from neglected emergent care, delayed preventive care and screening (eg, cancer screening), missed treatments (eg, cancer care, management of hypertension and diabetes), changes in health care access, and economic hardship. As just one example, it is estimated that COVID-19–related delayed screening and treatment of breast and colorectal cancers could result in almost 10,000 excess deaths in the United States.[14]

The underutilization of these preventive services may have an even greater effect on people disadvantaged by preexisting disparities for whom issues, such as the effects of the pandemic on access to primary care practices and other health care settings and a lack of community resources, may be particularly acute. Telemedicine options may help streamline access to needed care, but these options depend on digital access, which is also likely to be most problematic for older people, low-income people, and people in rural areas.

To address these diverse challenges, providers and health systems need to ensure that patient communication is taking place to alert the population to the level of COVID-19 activity in the community, the risk and benefits of in-person visits, the available options for health care services (eg, telemedicine, in-person visits), and the current mitigation strategies for safe in-person visits. Providers and systems need to conduct outreach to populations with the greatest need for care and provide culturally and linguistically appropriate messaging that addresses historical mistrust and stigma.