The coronavirus pandemic, which swept across the New York metropolitan area from March through May, had a paralyzing effect, forcing millions of people to put their plans on hold — including plans for routine physical exams.
That, medical experts said they fear, could put people in jeopardy. Now, they insist, is the time to have exams performed, while Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are continuing to decline.
Dr. Diane Reidy, a medical oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal cancers, is the associate deputy physician in chief for the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Regional Care Network. Patients, she said, have been naturally reluctant to come to hospitals and medical centers, even when experiencing symptoms at times. People delaying treatment, Reidy said, is what doctors are “most nervous about” at the moment.
MSK’s primary hospital is in Manhattan, but it has regional care centers throughout the metropolitan area, including a new 114,000-square-foot center in Uniondale, called MSK Nassau. It opened last April and is located in the southwest corner of the Nassau Coliseum’s expansive parking lot, next to Hofstra University.
Cancer surgeries are performed at MSK’s Manhattan hospital, but chemotherapy and radiation treatment are offered in Uniondale.
“Don’t forget about your health…” Reidy said. “A year could make a difference.”
She acknowledged that the nation is “in very uncertain and sorrowful times.” That does not mean, however, that people should ignore their own wellbeing — quite the opposite.
“We did what is right,” she said. “People did go into lockdown.” Now that New York’s economy is reopening, and people are beginning to emerge from isolation, she said, “there is an opportunity to say, ‘Let me think about my health. There is a period when it is safe to come back to your doctor.”
Already, many patients have put off necessary checkups for three months or more. If people continue to wait, a second wave of Covid-19 infections could strike over the summer or next fall, forcing patients to continue waiting.
A few months of waiting would likely not affect a patient’s condition to a measurable degree, Reidy said. Putting off a checkup for another six months to a year could.
“We just want to make sure that we are not a seeing a flood of cancers later,” she said.
Cancer patients, she said, are understandably concerned about Covid-19 infection, given that many are immunocompromised. Not all are, however, she noted.
Anyone suffering from leukemia or lung cancer is more vulnerable to the coronavirus’s effects. Generally speaking, though, cancer patients are no more susceptible than other people.
MSK has adjusted its practices and protocols to ensure patient safety, Reidy said. Patients can now check in from their cars by texting MSK’s main desk once they are curbside. They are screened for the coronavirus in their vehicles, and they can then wait in their cars to be called in for treatment. Once called, they are brought straight to a treatment room.
MSK is also experimenting with telemedicine to allow patients to check in from their homes, as well as well as consult with their doctors. If MSK is running behind schedule, the patient need not leave home.
“Everything we do is for our patients,” Reidy said.