Doctors Believe COVID-19 Fears a Factor in Decreased ER Visits

Doctors say they've seen fewer people in the ER for things like strokes, heart attacks, appendicitis, or gallbladder issues, but worry that these patients are ignoring serious symptoms because they fear a trip to the hospital.

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Visits to emergency departments across the country have dropped by up to half. While some of that can be attributed to people staying in, health experts say it's also because those who need to go are afraid to go.

"People are keeping away from ERs across the country and probably doing themselves more harm than good," said Saint Francis Hospital Chair of Emergency Medicine Dr. Steven Wolf.

As the pandemic spread across the US and many stayed inside, health experts say that also led to people keeping away from emergency departments, dropping by as much as 50%. While some of that can be attributed to fewer injuries from incidents like car accidents, not all of it can.

"We found a significant drop in ailments that you really don't have that much discretion with in terms of strokes, heart attacks, appendicitis, gallbladder," said Wolf.

Wolf says over the past two months the area has seen a rise in the number of cardiac arrests and deaths at home compared to the same time last year.

"A lot more people stayed home than should have, and there's no question that a lot of people unfortunately passed away as a result of that," said Wolf.

Wolf and others think many were afraid of catching COVID-19, so people stayed away despite symptoms of other serious ailments like severe abdominal pain, chest pain, and slurred speech.

"The drop off of strokes across the country that came to the ER, it didn't suddenly evaporate. So we're all wondering what's happened to those people," said Wolf.

Wolf says patients should feel safe going to the ER. At Saint Francis Hospital they have COVID-free zones and put in place other precautionary measures like keeping waiting rooms empty and placing patients into private rooms immediately.

"It's as safe as it possibly can be," said Wolf. "I think it's certainly safer than perhaps before COVID where people were mingling much more closely together."

The message to everyone is if you're having symptoms that were considered possibly life-threatening before COVID-19 and required a hospital visit, that doesn't change now.

Health experts say it's important for all of us to continue to take precautions, like social distancing, not just to avoid infecting others but to make sure anyone, no matter the illness, is able to get the care needed.

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