UPDATED 11:06 AM PT — Monday, July 13, 2020
As more people crowd hospitals in search of coronavirus treatment, medical officials are warning of a new health crisis. Americans are reportedly delaying seeking medical help for injuries and pre-existing medical conditions out of fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
At the start of the pandemic in March, many states halted all non-essential procedures and doctors visits to focus attention on fighting the virus.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed during the pandemic is that because we were under lockdown for some period of time, really some of the medical services were just those that were immediately important, urgent,” explained Dr. Debra Patt, oncologist. “And so, people didn’t have screenings…the screening rates for breast cancer, screening mammography, was down by 90 percent.”
While those doctor visits have been resumed, hospitals are still seeing fewer non-coronavirus patients. A report by Reuters found emergency department use fell by 40 percent during the first two and a half months of the pandemic.
“We’re definitely seeing in the emergency room patients who have delayed their care, delayed their treatment or delayed screening,” said Dr. Lynn Jeffers, chief medical officer at St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
During that same time, patients seeking care for heart attacks dropped by 23 percent while stroke patients fell by 20 percent. The pandemic has also taken a major toll on cancer patients who are considered extremely high risk of experiencing coronavirus complications.
“Going in, you know, honestly I was more nervous about coronavirus than my cancer surgery,” said Helen Knost, a breast cancer patient. “I have full faith in my surgeon, she’s awesome, but going in there with all the masks and the, you know, being checked with your temperature and all of that is much scarier than cancer.”
Doctors have assured, however, hospitals are taking all precautions to keep patients safe.
“As far as taking care of patients who don’t have COVID in our hospital, we’ve put in a lot of measures just to try to keep people separated,” said Dr. Jeffers.”…We’ve also looked at when we have elective surgeries that we are having them come and checked in a certain way, and discharge at the curb instead of having visitors come in.”
Doctors are urging people to consult their primary care physician if they think something is wrong and to not avoid seeking help out of fear of contracting the COVID-19.