BANGOR, Maine — Doctors are warning against putting healthcare screenings off for too long.
A spokesperson from St. Joseph Healthcare says they are experiencing a high number of patients opting to skip out on colonoscopy screenings due to COVID-19. But this is not just for one Maine hospital, hospitals throughout the United States have seen a drop on routine screenings, including colonoscopies.
Mary Prybylo is the President at St. Joseph Healthcare. Prybylo recently did her colonoscopy to share with others her experience of one during these COVID-19 days.
"It had been a while since I had one and it's not as bad as people think, and you go to sleep you wake up and it's like nothing ever happened," said Prybylo.
During a colonoscopy, the gastroenterologist uses a tiny camera to check for disease in your lower intestine or colon. It's a diagnostic procedure doctors say you should not put off for another year.
"It's the only modality we have right now to screen that actually removes pre-cancerous polyps," said Dr. Mark Lena, the chief gastroenterologist at St. Joseph Healthcare.
Dr. Lena says your first colonoscopy should be between the ages of 50 and 55.
"You want to catch colon cancer as early as you possibly can before it spreads to lymph nodes or worse even...to the liver," says Lena.
Nowadays many people might feel anxious about going to the hospital, but doctors urge patients not to delay preventative screenings.
"We have put in precautions so that you are very safe coming into this organization," said Prybylo.
For safety measures, at St. Joseph's Hospital:
- You will be asked a series of questions by security at the main door.
- Will get a temperature check.
- Will need to wear a mask at all times when inside the hospital.
- Hand sanitizers are available throughout the entire facility.
- If you use a pen or sit down on the waiting rooms, hospital staff will clean everything you touch or use.
"I think the chances of ever contracting COVID because you came to the hospital are exceptionally low," said Dr. Lena.
Delayed preventative screening may lead to bigger health concerns.
Another hospital system, MaineHealth, has started to resume services that were put on hold in mid-March as part of COVID-19 pandemic response planning.
MaineHealth has issued the following guidelines to assure that care will be delivered as safely as possible:
- Social distancing measures and masking will continue at all MaineHealth facilities.
- All patients who are scheduled for inpatient or outpatient surgical procedures will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.
- Separate respiratory care centers for the care of COVID-19 patients will continue to be maintained.
- Non-COVID-19 care areas will be established wherever possible and will be staffed with dedicated care team members.
- Patients will be tested preoperatively if their recovery could be affected by a progression of asymptomatic infection.
- All care team members will be screened daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and kept from the workplace for testing and quarantine if they show signs of infection.
- All patients admitted to MaineHealth hospitals, whether they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or not, will be tested for the virus. (This will greatly reduce the chances of transmission from asymptomatic patients and lessen the chance that patients will have post-surgical complications from COVID-19.)
- Testing for COVID-19 will also be offered to more patients who exhibit symptoms of an infection, even some who do not have underlying health conditions or are not a health care or other essential worker.
On another hand, Northern Light Health has made a number of changes and has implemented policies and procedures to ensure the safest environment possible for patients and staff.
- Masking: Masks or other personal protective equipment are worn by all caregivers and doctors. We’re also asking all patients and visitors to wear masks or face coverings upon entering a Northern Light Health facility.
- Hand Sanitation: We continue to wash our hands and use hand sanitizer frequently and encourage patients to do the same.
- Screening: Pre-screening happens before appointments, with temperature checks and a series of symptom check questions for anyone visiting our facilities.
- COVID-19 Patient Care: Patients with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms are treated by dedicated staff in designated areas. If patients are at home with COVID-19 the Home Care COVID-19 team is equipped to care for these patients.
- Cleaning/Disinfecting: All spaces are cleaned and sanitized per strict Northern Light Health medical standards. Our Environmental Services teams have always used checklists to ensure all areas are cleaned thoroughly. We disinfect every exam room and patient care area after each patient visit.
- Reception Areas: Reception areas may look a little different. In many areas, we’ve placed stickers on the floor to remind people to maintain safe distancing, and we’ve installed plexiglass barriers in locations where patients and visitors may encounter staff.
- Visitation Policy: We’ve had to restrict visitors because of the spread of COVID-19. This is hard because visitors have always been an important part of our patient care. We have very specific guidelines on which patients can have visitors and how many they can have.
- Expanded telehealth services: A tool we’ve used for years to meet patient needs from home using a phone, tablet, or computer, telehealth appointments are now able to meet more needs than ever. Patients are encouraged to ask about telehealth services to determine if this service is appropriate for them and their condition, in some cases a provider may proactively offer telehealth as an option.