More Than One-Third of U.S. Adults Delayed or Skipped Medical Care Because of Pandemic

By Carol Davis

Fearing exposure to COVID-19, combined with limited services caused by the pandemic, resulted in more than one-third of adults in the United States (36%) to delay or go without needed medical care, a new report says.

Nearly 29% of parents delayed or went without care for their children under age 19 for the same reasons.

Those were the findings in two new analyses by Urban Institute researchers and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation  The two studies addressed delayed and forgone healthcare—one for nonelderly adults and one for children.

Going without needed treatment had consequences, as one-third of the adults (32.6%) who reported delaying or forgoing care said one or more of their health conditions worsened as a result, or their ability to work or perform other daily activities was limited.

Adults with one or more chronic health conditions reported delaying or forgoing care at a rate of nearly 41%, which is cause for concern, particularly for people whose health can deteriorate rapidly without careful monitoring and treatment. Mortality data suggest the pandemic has caused a surge in excess deaths from conditions such as diabetes, dementia, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke, the report says.

Black adults were more likely than white or Hispanic/Latino adults to report delaying or forgoing care (39.7% versus 34.3% and 35.5%, respectively) and more likely to report delaying or forgoing multiple types of care (28.5% versus 21.1% and 22.3%, respectively), according to the analyses.

Other findings included:

  • More than half of adults with both a physical and mental health condition (56.3%) reported delaying or skipping care.
  • Dental care was the most common type of care adults delayed or did not receive (25.3%).
  • One in five respondents (20.6%) delayed or went without a visit to a general doctor or specialist.
  • Slightly more than 15% delayed or went without some form of preventive care.

“Prolonged gaps in needed medical care lead to adverse health outcomes and could create long-term economic challenges as we navigate out of the pandemic,” said Mona Shah, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Among parents with children under 19, researchers found that 28.8% reported their children had delayed or missed one or more types of healthcare due to the pandemic and 15.6% reported delaying or forgoing multiple types of care for their children, especially parents with lower incomes (19.6% versus 11.4% of parents with higher incomes).

“The pandemic has caused children, especially those in low-income families, to miss out on a range of healthcare needs,” said Dulce Gonzalez, research analyst at the Urban Institute. “These gaps in care could harm children’s health, development, and well-being—but targeted efforts to make up for missed care could help avoid exacerbating socioeconomic inequities.”

The solution to unmet healthcare needs requires effectively calming fears about exposure to the coronavirus, the report advises.

“Patients must be reassured that providers’ safety precautions follow public health guidelines, and that these precautions effectively prevent transmission in offices, clinics, and hospitals,” it says. “More data showing healthcare settings are not common sources of transmission and better communication with the public to promote the importance of seeking needed and routine care are also needed.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.