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Being a primary care physician over the past several months has been, to say the least, an adventure. One lesson I have learned is clear: many have been neglecting their health due to the pandemic and I fear the consequences of this could be felt for years. If we compare the pandemic to lightning and thunder, neglecting our health could turn out to be the flood that follows.

Because office visits have been canceled, impossible to find or have not been practical to attend, many have put their health on the back burners until things calm down with the virus. Elective surgeries have been canceled or postponed, routine blood work skipped and screening tests for prevention forgotten.

As a result, I have seen many unintentionally neglect their health: a new symptom not evaluated, chronic medical conditions previously well-controlled now out-of-control and screening tests forgotten. One study suggested over the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 in the United States could result in direct medical costs as high as $163.4 billion if 20% of the population gets infected. However, what about the indirect costs – and health consequences – for what we could call “health neglect?”

Our health is everything. The question is, what can we do – in addition to social distancing and wearing masks – that can make an impact on our overall health? What action can we take? My response to this can be summarized in one sentence that has recently become my way of looking at many, if not all, aspects life: “Embrace what you can do.”

So, what is the call to action? How can you “embrace what you can do” in regard to your health? Most urgently, pay attention to your body and contact your physician with changes or concerns. Yes, there is a pandemic going on and yes the medical community is stressed. However, that should not be a reason to ignore new pain or changes in your body that seem worrisome. Be reassured that most if not all physician offices are now carefully monitored and sanitized according to strict Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Take a look at your current medical conditions and see how well you are managing them – diabetes management, trying to quit smoking or vaping, keeping up with exercise, proper diet and hypertension control just to name a few.

Get back to basics and keep up with preventive care. Breast cancer, colon cancer, PAP testing, immunizations, aortic aneurysms and several other screening tests are highly effective and remain very important. Search “U.S. Preventive Services Task Force” on the web or ask your primary care provider about prevention.

In summary, over the last several months I have seen many ignore new symptoms, forget about managing their chronic illness and postpone their preventive care “until everything calms down.” Embrace what you can do. Pay attention to any new symptoms, stay on top of your chronic illness and get up-to-date with your preventive care. Schedule an appointment – virtual or in person – with your primary care provider, even if it takes some time to get in.

Dr. Ken Goodman is a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.

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