Merced County Times Newspaper
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Preventative care is more important now, than it was before coronavirus pandemic

FEATURE OP/ED

By DR. DIANNA DIALLO,  MD, Pediatric specialist
By DR. DIANNA DIALLO,
MD, Pediatric specialist
Preventative care is critical to the health of you and your family.

Preventive care is routine checkups that can detect and prevent hidden illness early, typically before visible symptoms arise. It helps you maintain optimal health throughout your lifetime, improving quality of life and longevity. These routine visits include wellness exams – like physicals or well-child visits – vaccinations and cancer screenings.

Immunizations remain a vital component of health care, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines protect kids against 16 serious diseases (the CDC provides a complete list of recommended vaccines by age), and if children don’t get all of the necessary vaccines at the right time, they may need to start a new or different vaccine schedule to ensure full immunization. Regular and timely vaccinations also safeguard adults against diseases like the chicken pox. And don’t forget that flu season is right around the corner! A yearly flu shot is recommended for anyone 6 months or older. Flu vaccines are updated each year to protect against ever-changing flu viruses.

Avoiding care now often leads to health problems later.

Wellness visits are essential, especially for those with chronic or underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma.

In the U.S., 7 out of 10 deaths are caused by chronic disease, which can often be detected – and caught early – during preventative care appointments and screenings. Underlying health issues that are left undiagnosed and untreated can have serious consequences like respiratory failure (infections like COVID-19 can exacerbate conditions) or even death.

The best way to prevent illness is by getting age-appropriate screenings (such as cancer screenings or monitoring for high blood pressure) that can detect early signs of chronic disease. This is especially critical for vulnerable populations. There’s a sizable health gap between rural and urban residents. Several demographic, environmental, economic, and social factors put rural residents at higher risk from the five leading causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke.

About 15 percent of Merced County residents live in rural areas, which matches the percentage of rural area residents in the entire United States.

Addressing the gaps in health in rural areas begins with prioritizing preventative care.

COVID-19 has made preventative care even more important.

Due to the pandemic, it’s been necessary to keep distance from others, and there’s been a marked decrease in the usual in-person interaction. For many, this quarantine has negatively affected their mental health. We’ve seen this to be especially true with our senior population, who might not be as familiar or as comfortable with the virtual interaction and technology we’ve relied upon during social distancing. Physical distancing from loved ones and a general isolation from others has led to feelings of loneliness, grief, anxiety and chronic stress that can have long-standing psychological effects.

Mental health screenings are part of regular doctor check-ups. Mental health and well-being is important for everyone, and if someone is struggling, his or her doctor can connect them to the resources they need.

For children, preventative care may be even more important. With so many normal school and extracurricular activities currently shut down or modified, a child’s pediatrician might be one of the few adults they encounter outside the home who are looking out for their well-being. Right now is a very important time in a child’s life to understand the importance of having a trusted doctor looking out for their welfare.

Doctors have protocols in place to protect you and your family from COVID.

Doctor’s offices have implemented extra steps to make sure your in-person visit is safe, like having specific hours and locations for well-visits, keeping sick patients and well patients separated and limiting the number of people in waiting rooms.

Of course, it’s still important for people over 2 years of age to wear a mask and for everyone to sanitize their hands often and social distance from anyone not in their family. And if you or a family member is sick, please stay home.

Check in, check up.

Regular check-ups are essential monitors of overall health status – keeping up with your preventative care maximizes your well-being. This includes getting your flu shot every year. Instead of guessing whether your regular check-up can wait, check in with your doctor. If you have a health concern, or questions regarding preventive care appointments, call your doctor for information on scheduling both physical and virtual health check-ups.

Dianna Diallo, MD is Medical Director of the Central California Alliance for Health, a Medi-Cal managed care health plan focused on improving access to health care for over 347,000 residents of Merced, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Dr. Diallo has over 15 years of pediatric care experience.

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