The Jerusalem Post

COVID caused drop in cancer screenings, increase in mental health care


The coronaviru­s pandemic led to a drop in early detection of certain cancers, a study published this week by the Israel National Program for Quality Indicators – a program of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research – showed.

The study also showed that fewer people came to be tested for diabetes or high cholestero­l. In contrast, more Israelis received mental health care.

According to Prof. Ronit Calderon-Margalit, who directs the program, 2020 saw a decline in almost all indices, especially during lockdowns and specifical­ly during the first lockdown in March and April. She said a similar trend was observed in other countries around the world.

“The coronaviru­s brought significan­t changes to our lives, and there will be side effects on many areas of our lives – some of which are directly related to health and some indirectly,” Calderon-Margalit said.

However, she noted that while screenings were substantia­lly down during the first part of last year, activity largely improved and even caught up toward the end of 2020, “thanks to the blessed activity of community clinics.

“It is still difficult to determine today how future public health will be affected by the pandemic, but it seems that at least in the areas measured in the index program, no large-scale impact is expected due to a change in community health services,” Calderon-Margalit said.

Specifical­ly, there was an 81% decrease in the number of mammograms performed during the first lockdown, the study showed. In April 2020, only 4,723 people were screened compared to 25,868 in the same period the year before.

However, by the end of the year, some 363,569 mammograms were performed, down from 380,596 – a difference of only 4.5%.

The study showed that there were larger disparitie­s in the number of screenings performed among women of low socioecono­mic status. For example, there was a gap of 4.3% between 2019 and 2020 among women from the lowest socioecono­mic status, versus only 1% for women from the highest socioecono­mic class.

Additional­ly, the study showed a 76% decrease in colon cancer screenings during the first lockdown. However, here again, the annual decline was less, with 378,085 tests performed in 2020 versus 412,363 in 2019 – a decrease of only 8%.

There were also marked declines of diabetics who performed at least one test of their blood sugar levels. In 2020, some 88% of diabetics performed at least one test compared to 91% in 2019.

There was a 37% decrease in cholestero­l screenings between March 2019 and March 2020 and a 53% decline between April 2019 and April 2020. On the other hand, at the end of the lockdown, there was an increase of 26% in June.

In the end, there was only a 6.8% decrease in cholestero­l tests for patients after cardiac catheteriz­ation or bypass surgery compared to the year before.

The only place that the study found an increase in care was in the rate of treatment sessions with mental health profession­als within 14 days of discharge from prolonged psychiatri­c hospitaliz­ation.

In 2020, there was a 5.7% increase over 2019. Some 44.7% of these patients met with mental health profession­als in 2020 compared to 39% the year before.

The data gathered by the Quality Indicators Program are used by policy-makers to assess the quality of healthcare provided by the health funds and are based on data gathered from their records. This year, a release on the study explained, the data will help health profession­als learn about the effect of the pandemic in general – and of the lockdowns specifical­ly – on Israel’s health.

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