LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — In a new addition to our Health Check '22 series, 13 Action News anchor Dave Courvoisier looks at some of this year's biggest impacts on our health. Even as essential workers, many doctor's offices were also affected, and the effort to get patients back in the exam room changed.
When the pandemic hit, it forced many businesses here in Southern Nevada and across the country to close.
"I had candid, difficult discussions with patients and family members," Dr. Saju Joseph said. "To say hey, this is not one at this time that we can provide care for."
Joseph said the pandemic is like nothing he's ever experienced. In the early months, the Surgical Oncologist was limited from doing everything possible.
"Screening from colonoscopies, mammograms," said Joseph. "All those things were really kind of shut down."
According to Joseph, people died or had their conditions worsen because they were not able to find care.
"The thing that probably scared me the most was the people who passed away, who couldn't see their loved ones," Joseph said.
Even as the healthcare industry eased restrictions, other issues slowed the process.
"You had not only the patients that were established. You had new patients coming," Joseph said. "You then had the third crunch, which was providers leaving."
Dr. Joseph says many doctors were quitting, retiring, or moving to non-clinical jobs.
Dr. Christopher Mercado, chief medical officer with Dignity Health Medical Group of Nevada, was among the many doctors taking on new patients.
"You know in Nevada, we're 48th in the nation in terms of doctors per capita," Mercardo said. "So we are not only out of backlog of patients who need to be seen from the pandemic, but also had a backlog of patients who need to have a primary care doctor. But we just don't have enough doctors to see them."
Mercado says his office and others are getting patients back on track with the help of nurse practitioners and telehealth. However, there's still a lag for some medical specialists.
"Maybe it would take seven to ten days for an ultrasound," Mercardo said. "Because there's so many people here who need imaging, whether or not that's chest x-rays, mammograms that can take four to six weeks to get that done."
TAKING A TOLL
Dr. Mercado says those delays are taking a psychological toll on patients.
"I think that that's really what we're dealing with now on the primary care setting is how the waits in terms of like imaging or elective procedures are starting to affect patients," Mercardo said.
Dr. Joseph agrees with the prognosis.
"Best example here, if you have need to be seen by a rheumatologist, it's a three, four month wait. We're hustling to get these people in. And these aren't diseases they can just sit at home, like waiting," Joseph said.
For those who can wait, Dr. Joseph says the good news is, a lot of patients are getting the help they need outside the hospital.
"I would have told you two years ago pre-pandemic, probably a good 80/90 percent of what I did was in the hospital. And now I'd tell you, probably 50/50, we can provide pain control, fluids and care for you in an outpatient setting, happy at home," Joseph said.
However, there's one more major hurdle facing many doctors. Reaching those patients who have completely stopped seeing any doctor during the pandemic.
WE ARE HERE
"Still trying to get out to the community and say, if you need something, if you need to be screened or you just need to be seen, we're here... We are putting patients in everywhere we can fit them. We are going to, if we get somebody referred over, we're going to fit them in as quickly as we can," Joseph said.
Dr. Mercado is prescribing the same advice and says everyone should be getting back into the habit of seeing their doctor regularly.
"Really important for us to catch things early, get patients in for their annual visits and have blood work done to make sure we're taking care of them ahead of time," Mercardo said.