A pandemic problem
Paul E. Casey, MD, MBA, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said that high vaccination rates in Chicago have helped Rush continue to accommodate both non-COVID and COVID patients in the emergency department.
Though the hospital treated a large volume of COVID patients, “The vast majority of people we see and did see through the pandemic were non-COVID patents,” he said.
Dr. Casey said that in the first wave the hospital noticed a concerning drop in patients coming in for strokes and heart attacks — “things we knew hadn’t gone away.”
And the data backs it up. Over the course of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey found that the percentage of Americans who reported seeing a doctor or health professional fell from 85% at the end of 2019 to about 80% in the first three months of 2021. The survey did not differentiate between in-person visits and telehealth appointments.
Medical practices and patients themselves postponed elective procedures and delayed routine visits during the early months of the crisis.
Patients also reported staying away from hospitals’ emergency departments throughout the pandemic. At the end of 2019, 22% of respondents reported visiting an emergency department in the past year. That dropped to 17% by the end of 2020, and was at 17.7% in the first 3 months of 2021.
Dr. Casey said that, in his hospital’s case, clear messaging became very important to assure patients it was safe to come back. And the message is still critical.
“We want to be loud and clear that patients should continue to seek care for those conditions,” Dr. Casey said. “Deferring healthcare only comes with the long-term sequelae of disease left untreated so we want people to be as proactive in seeking care as they always would be.”
In some cases, fears of entering emergency rooms because of excess patients and risk for infection are keeping some patients from seeking necessary care for minor injuries.
Jim Rickert, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Indiana University Health in Bloomington, said that some of his patients have expressed fears of coming into the hospital for fractures.
Some patients, particularly elderly patients, he said, are having falls and fractures and wearing slings or braces at home rather than going into the hospital for injuries that need immediate attention.
Bones start healing incorrectly, Dr. Rickert said, and the correction becomes much more difficult.
Plea for vaccinations
Dr. Gosnell made a plea posted on her neighborhood news forum for people to get COVID vaccinations.
“It seems to me it’s easy for other people who are not in bodies like mine to take health for granted,” she said. “But there are a lot of us who live in very fragile bodies and our entire life is at the intersection of us and getting healthcare treatment. Small complications to getting treatment can be life altering.”
Dr. Gosnell, Ms. Seefeldt, Dr. Casey, and Dr. Rickert reported no relevant financial relationships.
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