Coronavirus sparks dramatic decline in non-coronavirus ER visits

Patient visits to the emergency room have been trending downward since mid-March proving that people are afraid of going to the hospital.  Doctors believe it is because people are afraid of possibly contracting Covid-19. As Covid-19 emergency room admissions rise across the country, non-coronavirus patients are avoiding hospitals and seeking treatment at alternative outpatient sites. If people are avoiding hospitals out of fear, it could have long-lasting public health consequences.

Physicians worry that patients with severe illnesses may suffer permanent damage by avoiding the ER. If people delay care by waiting to go to the hospital until symptoms have developed into a serious illness, it could be too late to prevent long-term damage or even death. It is very possible we are going to see large numbers of people that have bad outcomes from heart disease, from stroke, from cancer because they have put off seeking treatment.

In our small office we have multiple examples of individuals avoiding or delaying important medical visits for fear of contracting COVID-19.

  • One person has postponed seeing his neurologist for hemifacial spasms
  • Another has delayed his hematologist appointment for his polycythemia checkup
  • A third person has delayed in-home Physical Therapy for his mother for fear of having outsiders in his elderly parents’ home
  • Another has delayed a follow up appointment for a neck aneurysm repair

Dr. Fayne Frey, a dermatologist in Rockland County, New York, has remained open as an essential business and has seen an unusual uptick in patient visits. What is strange about the increase in patient visits is what she has seen, a six-inch laceration needing stitches, staph infections, shingles, rashes and badly infected cuts, all of which should have been seen in an ER.

This report from the Journal of American College of Cardiology shows that people with severe heart attacks are presenting 40% less than they were before COVID across the entire nation.

In a survey conducted by MORC at University of Chicago adults aged 70 and older, over half of the respondents said they had delayed or canceled their treatment.  Thirty-nine percent put off non-essential treatment they needed.

As a result of the reduction in non-coronavirus patient ER visits, admissions have decreased, and staff reductions have increased. Putting off medical treatment not only places people at risk it also decimates revenue for healthcare providers.  Medical Imaging departments were down between 35-60% overall in inpatient, outpatient and ER patients.

At over 1,100 U.S. hospitals, the average decline in key metrics compared to January norms. Source

States are utilizing data regarding case numbers, hospitalizations, and projection models as a guide to determine what measures to take and how to phase back in much needed medical procedures.  Hospitals across the country are gearing back up to begin performing time-sensitive procedures and experiencing a heavy backlog. Radiology departments are starting to re-open for certain procedures in a modified environment, but only doing so after rigorous screening and most only at 25% capacity. Some hospitals are resuming elective surgeries albeit with new precautions to mitigate the COVID-19 threat.

Hospitals want the public to know they are taking the proper precautions to keep their patients healthy and safe.  People should not be afraid to call 9-1-1, to go to the emergency room, or start scheduling appointments or procedures.

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