As hospitals and area clinics saw an influx of COVID-19 patients and residents were cautioned to protect themselves against the spread of the virus, many patients delayed their routine checkups and screenings.

Dr. Amelia Averyt, associate medical director of clinical family practice at Legacy Community Health in the Greater Houston area, said patients have postponed diabetes care, blood pressure monitoring, cancer screenings, annual exams and pediatric care.

“As the pandemic blossomed, that fear set in,” she said. “People ... at higher risk of complications just decided to stay at home.”

Averyt said practitioners have missed opportunities to diagnose developmental issues as well as catching cancer early.

A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found 20% of U.S. residents were unable or chose to delay medical care for a serious problem at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, and 15% were unable to get elective procedures done. More than half of both these groups reported negative health consequences as a result.

Ellen Pitcher, vice president of patient care services for CHI St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital, said the hospital’s patient volume is higher than it was before the pandemic.

“Our volume has stayed up, and [there is] a lot of pent-up demand because people are afraid to come to hospitals,” she said.

In 2020, Montgomery County Hospital District reported a 30% increase in out-of-hospital deaths in the first three months of the pandemic.

“At all of the hospitals in this area, [patient volume] went down during the pandemic because people wouldn’t go to the hospital, and they were coming in sicker. ... Elective surgeries were slowed, ... and now we’re catching up. The [mid-February] snowstorm didn’t help,” Pitcher said.

CHI St. Luke’s in September also launched a campaign, Safe Visits, emphasizing sanitary measures and screening in place to protect patients. The program urges patients not to delay treatment when it is needed, according to information on the campaign website.

Hunter Marrow contributed to this report.