This post was adapted from content originally posted on AllWays Health Partners' provider blog, Best Practice.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the medical care landscape over the past few months. It has particularly affected outpatient care. Understandably, patients are avoiding doctors and hospitals due to fears that they could become infected with COVID-19. But health care providers are now stressing the importance of continuing to seek medical care in urgent or emergency situations. Here’s what you need to know about declining health care visits and the signs and symptoms that require emergency care.
Declining doctor visits
To find out just how profound the decline in doctor visits has been, researchers at Harvard University and Phreesia, a health care technology company, analyzed data on changes in visit volume for the more than 50,000 Phreesia providers.
Though doctor visits have declined significantly for all age groups, older adults and school-age children saw the largest declines. Visits have declined by 65% among adults age 75 and older and declined by 71% among children age 7–17. Telemedicine visits have increased, but this has so far not been enough to offset the decline of in-person visits.
While these declines are seen across many specialties and types of care, one of the most concerning to many hospitals is the drop in the number of people visiting the emergency department for life-threatening conditions. Some Massachusetts hospitals have seen a 60% reduction in stroke-related ER admissions and a 37% reduction in heart attack patients.
Similarly, chronic diseases still require regular medical attention and treatment that can't wait until after the pandemic. For example, many with diseases such as colitis or multiple sclerosis are treated most effectively through medications that require infusion in a hospital setting. Or people taking certain medications need regular bloodwork to ensure counts stay in normal ranges.
To encourage patients to seek medical care when needed, Partners HealthCare recently collaborated with other Massachusetts hospitals and state government on a series of public service announcements (PSAs). These PSAs remind patients of what a medical emergency looks like and when to call 911 or go to their local emergency department, and that hospitals are doing everything possible to keep emergency departments clean and safe.
Remind your employees not to delay care for these symptoms
Given these statistics, chances are good that not all of your employees are getting the necessary care they need. In light of this, remind your employees that there are some health concerns that should never be ignored, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Remind them to call 911 for help if they or a member of their family experience symptoms of these medical emergencies:
- Stroke: Difficulty speaking, moving arms, impaired vision, or drooping on one side of the face are all signs of a stroke and require immediate medical attention. The faster the response to these warning signals, the better the outcomes will be.
- Heart attack: Pain, pressure, and tightness in the chest or upper body are all possible signs of a heart attack. Someone having a heart attack may also feel nauseous, lightheaded, fatigued, or short of breath. The effects of a heart attack vary widely between individuals and men and women, but if something feels wrong, it’s important to get help as soon as possible to prevent serious heart problems.
- Serious injury: Severe injuries like burns, broken bones, cuts, and trauma to the head or spine should all be treated by a medical professional. It’s important to seek help to prevent the injury from getting worse, and to diagnose and treat complications that may arise, like infection or concussion.
- Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing is always a sign that you should seek medical attention. Struggling to draw a breath can be a sign of asthma, pneumonia, lung disease, or COVID-19, and should never be ignored.
- Headache or abdominal pain: Feelings of sudden or intense head or stomach pain call for a trip to the emergency room. If the pain is centered on the right side of the abdomen, it could be a sign of appendicitis or problem with the gallbladder, which both require immediate surgery. A severe headache that comes with a fever and neck pain may indicate an infection that requires treatment.
You can find more information about when to go to the ER here. We’ve also created a list of health care tools, behavioral health resources, and food assistance programs you can share with friends, family, and employees who may be in need of additional support due to COVID-19.