(StatePoint) Many older adults have been delaying preventive health care during the pandemic because of fear of visiting the doctor’s office. As more people get vaccinated for COVID-19, now may be a good time to make up for gaps in care, according to Dr. Gina Conflitti, chief medical officer for Medicare Advantage at Cigna.
“Delaying preventive care can catch up with us, especially as we get older,” says Dr. Conflitti. “As people age, preventive care becomes increasingly important in helping prevent or manage chronic conditions. Doctors’ offices have nationally accepted, evidence-based COVID-19 safety protocols in place and many preventive services are covered by Medicare or Medicare Advantage at no extra cost when visiting a participating or in-network provider.”
Each person’s doctor should determine the right services based on age, gender, medical history and health status. Among those to consider are:
Annual wellness visit. Covered by Medicare, this is a great way to develop a personalized annual care plan. Among other things, the doctor will ask the patient to fill out a health risk assessment to help determine the services likely needed in the year ahead. The doctor will assess how the patient is feeling physically and emotionally, since mental health often impacts physical health. It’s important for the patient to be open about their feelings, current condition, and medical history.
Mammogram. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every woman is at risk, but risk increases with age. Fortunately, breast cancer is often treated successfully when found early. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women 50 to 74 at average risk get a mammogram every two years.
Colorectal screening. Like breast cancer, colorectal cancer risk increases with age. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps early so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. The USPSTF recommends screening for adults age 45 to 75. Medicare covers the cost of a screening colonoscopy once every two years for those at high risk or once every 10 years for those at lower risk. Though colonoscopy is the most comprehensive test, providers can help determine the best option for individuals.
Bone density scan. USPSTF recommends women aged 65 and older be routinely screened for osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become weak and brittle. According to the agency, routine screening should begin at 60 for women at increased risk. Screening may facilitate treatment that helps prevent fractures.
Eye exam. A routine eye exam is important to identify early signs of eye disease that are more likely as people age. People with diabetes are particularly prone to retinopathy, which leads to vision loss, and it’s recommended they have annual retinal screening exams.
Vaccinations. While the COVID-19 vaccine is certainly a top priority, especially for older adults, there are other important vaccines, including flu, pneumonia and shingles. Patients should ask their doctors about current recommendations as autumn approaches and risk potentially increases.
“Even in the best of times, health screenings and vaccinations are often a missed opportunity and the pandemic has only made matters worse,” says Dr. Conflitti. “But with these services, individuals can take control of their health in partnership with their doctors. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.