Dr. Dan Flaugher, board-certified family medicine provider at Berkeley Family Practice in Moncks Corner, believes that families need to make preventive health through annual physicals and wellness checks a priority.
“Particularly in COVID times, a lot of the preventive care has been delayed, people aren’t going to the doctor unless they ‘really need to,’ and, as a result, we’re detecting cancer later and, unfortunately, with worse outcomes,” he said.
Dr. Flaugher is originally from Summerville. He attended Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, where he received a B.A. in biology. He worked for two years as a high school math and science teacher before attending Chicago Medical School. Dr. Flaugher moved back to the Lowcountry in 2013 to complete his family medicine residency at the Medical University of South Carolina and has been practicing at Berkeley Family Practice since 2017.
“COVID-19 caused massive disruptions in every aspect of life, including personal, community, schools, education and health care,” said Dr. Flaugher. “As everyone was dealing with it in the best way they knew how, the pandemic created huge health care setbacks.”
As published in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, 748 accredited cancer programs reported decreases in screenings for colorectal, 80.6%; cervical, 69%; breast, 55.3% and lung cancer, 44.6%, between April and June 2021, according to a study conducted by the American College of Surgeons Cancer Programs and the American Cancer Society.
Before the pandemic, the medical community had a difficult time convincing patients to schedule routine screenings such as colonoscopies and mammograms because they are regarded as invasive and potentially uncomfortable. Because of the pandemic, many lifesaving screenings have been delayed one to two years and, as a result, patients are being diagnosed with more late stages of breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease.
“Primary health care has been put on hold,” said Dr. Flaugher. “But people need to get back in to see their primary doctor, get their physicals and well checks and schedule their cancer screenings.”
As restrictions are being lifted, people are going back to the office and kids are back to school unmasked, families are feeling less apprehensive about the doctor’s office. While families play catch-up, doctors and health care systems must do the same with a diminished workforce and increased demand. The pandemic has forced many nurses and technicians to leave their job due to a marked decrease in available child care, fear of contracting COVID-19 and more. For this reason, most medical organizations, said Dr. Flaugher, are currently running with suboptimal staffing while responding to an ever-increasing demand for appointments.
Dr. Flaugher recognizes that patients are anxious to return to a semblance of normalcy and regain control over their health and day-to-day lives. Despite the concerning downward trends in cancer screening and other preventive medicine, he remains optimistic. He asks families to be patient and flexible with their health care providers when making their appointments. Medical organizations are adjusting their practices to meet patients’ post-pandemic needs, but it will take some time. He also believes that the road ahead may be uncertain and encourages families to protect themselves and their health while also helping to keep office staff, doctors and hospital personnel safe.
When asked what preventive screenings patients should prioritize, Dr. Flaugher stated that colonoscopies and mammograms are relatively easy to complete and remain generally accessible. These screenings also detect some of the most aggressive cancers, which are quite survivable if they are detected early. In the meantime, he recommends families get outside and resume outdoor activities.
“From running and fishing to days at the beach, it’s a great time to be outdoors,” he said.
With flexibility, patience and self-care, Dr. Flaugher is confident that families in the Lowcountry and beyond will soon enough be back to living their lives to the fullest. For now, he and his patients are taking it one day at a time.
For more information on Berkeley Family Practice, visit berkeleyfamilypractice.com.
By Isabel Alvarez Arata