Doctors are urging minority Hoosiers to complete annual checkups they missed last year

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Inside a doctor’s office (Nexstar, file)

INDIANAPOLIS — If you are one of the hundreds of Hoosiers who delayed your primary health care during the height of the pandemic, local doctors say right now is the time to book your appointment — especially if you are a minority.

According to the CDC, life expectancy for Black and Hispanic Americans fell nearly three years in 2020. The three-year drop is the largest decline Hispanic Americans have seen since the CDC started tracking Hispanic life expectancy 15 years ago. Black life expectancy has been that low since 2000 and has not fallen so much in one year since the mid-1930s.

“It’s always been a challenge to get minorities to go to the doctor in the first place,” said Mary Payton — Health Educator with the Minority Health Coalition of Marion County. “But now it’s even more important that we’re getting those yearly checkups.”

Payton understands the hesitation most minorities feel. She said she had a routine doctor’s visit scheduled during the onset of the pandemic, but almost did not show up.

“I thought, you know, I’m a little scared about going out… but then I thought, ‘well I’ll go’ and I’m so glad I did… I had a scare. I had a health scare,” said Payton.

Payton said had she not gone to her regular checkup, her condition would have worsened. Now, it’s that same hesitancy she is trying to prevent in other Hoosiers.

“Access is already very difficult for those [minority] groups and they have limited options,” said Dr. Amanda Furr, Primary Care Physician Executive with Community Health.

Last year, Dr. Furr said Hoosiers delayed mammograms, colonoscopies, and even blood work needed to manage their chronic illnesses. She said they later came to the hospital or emergency department very ill.

“Managing those illnesses in a later stage is so much more difficult and we just don’t have the good outcomes like when we catch them early,” said Dr. Furr.

“There may be cases that are undiagnosed and they will be seen at later stages of disease,” said Dr. Nicholas Barros, Medical Director for Infectious Diseases at IU Health.

Dr. Barros said, here in Indiana, the Delta variant has been confirmed in 75% of tested samples of COVID-19  and positivity rates have almost doubled in the last week.

“The positivity rate of cases just one week ago was 5%, two days ago it was 7%, and now it’s a little over 9%,” said Dr. Barros. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes even further in the upcoming weeks.”

Both IU Health and Community Health say their doctor’s offices likely will not shut down like they did last year, but a spike in cases will ultimately deter some patients and could lead to increased deaths.

“Now is the time,” said Payton. “We don’t know if this surge is going to keep going up or whether it’s going to go down but right now is the perfect time to go in and have all those tests ran and all those checkups done.”

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