A medical professional examines medical images.
While COVID-19 triggered some delays in services this past spring, most hospital systems—including Spectrum Health—recommend patients maintain appointments for routine medical care such as mammograms. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

“Do I really need to come in right now for my screening mammogram?”

“My answer is yes,” said Amie Hop, MD, a Spectrum Health general surgeon and breast care specialist.

That’s Dr. Hop’s straightforward reply to patients if they ask her whether routine breast care appointments should be kept amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This virus is something that’s been around for a while,” Dr. Hop said. “It’s not going away on an immediate basis. Even if we have a vaccine, it takes time.”

While many hospital systems had to pause some medical services this past spring when the COVID-19 virus first emerged, Spectrum Health teams have since established additional safety measures and rescheduled patients for most appointments.

“This has gone on too long for people to postpone things that keep them healthy,” Dr. Hop said.

Speaking during the recent Susan G. Komen Michigan webinar, Powerfully Pink, Dr. Hop shared her perspective about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected breast cancer services.

Spectrum Health has been fortunate to continue offering breast cancer treatment and care all year long.

“We never stopped diagnostic tests,” Dr. Hop said. “We never stopped doing imaging on people who had symptom concerns, so that we didn’t delay someone who was potentially having an issue—like a breast mass—from seeking care.”

Routine breast cancer screenings paused this past spring, but only for about six weeks.

Most other services have continued uninterrupted, although with much tighter controls.

In areas where a patient’s underlying health may be more vulnerable as a result of treatment—chemotherapy, for example—health teams have helped patients follow scrupulous safety precautions and social distancing “to make sure those patients aren’t encountering as many people.”

The pandemic has also ushered in a measure of positive changes, including a sweeping acceptance of virtual services and telemedicine. That trend is likely to stick around long after the virus is wrangled.

“We’ve been doing a lot of telehealth,” Dr. Hop said, adding that it’s been especially helpful for post-op and follow-up visits.

There’s also one treatment area that has played a central role in this COVID-19 saga: mental health counseling.

“I’ve seen more people being open to that option and discussing it,” Dr. Hop said. “It’s a healthy thing and it’s another place to have personal connection.”

Trouble with breast health can be stressful on its own, but amid a pandemic the emotional toll is only heightened as patients face limited access to friends and support systems.

“It’s important to acknowledge when we are stressed and when we need assistance,” Dr. Hop said. “Even if it’s just reassurance from your providers.”

Her recommendation? Don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health counselor. Also, treat virtual plans with friends and family just as you would in-person meetings—schedule them and stick to them.

“Schedule them as a priority,” she said.