Concerns about coronavirus causing patients to delay seeking care


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to drag on, many health professionals are concerned about patients who have postponed seeking needed care out of fear of being exposed to others in hospitals who are being treated for COVID-19.

If you’ve put off getting checked out for any medical condition, beware you could be setting yourself up for an even more serious condition or longer recovery period once you have the health procedure performed.

- Advertisement -

According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, several major hospitals across the country experienced an estimated 38-percent reduction in emergency room treatment of heart attacks since the COVID 19 outbreak.

That’s also a trend physicians are seeing at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

“We have seen a similar reduction in visits to our emergency department,” said West Paul, MD, PhD, NHRMC Chief Clinical Officer. “I think the cardiac is most worrisome [but] putting off any type of symptoms that you have, could certainly lead to a much worse outcome.”

Cardiovascular disease can lead to heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Every wasted or delayed second getting treatment can result in a worsening outcome for the patient.

“I think we used to say from a cardiac standpoint, time is myocardium, or heart muscle, and from a stroke standpoint, time is brain so, absolutely, we need people in soon so we can treat [them],” Paul said.

Many elective or non-emergency procedures were postponed several weeks ago to free up resources for potential Coronavirus patients but earlier this week, NHRMC started phasing back in surgical services and diagnostic testing. The hospital says it used a number of metrics to determine that it was safe to resume doing these procedures.

“We’ve had now the time to prepare, to learn from the country and learn from the region how to take care of these [coronavirus] patients, how to take care of any possible surge we have and really what we need for capacity,” Paul said.

No one, he says, has really handled anything quite like this in the past.

“We really do hold high the preparedness we’ve had coming into this,” Paul said.

Delaying a surgery that may have been non-urgent a month ago may be more critical to treat now.

“That’s why we’re encouraging you not to neglect your care, come into our emergency department,” Paul said. “Some of these procedures we know we could have stopped, over time, they become more and more urgent so its time to start.”

As NHRMC gradually phases in this procedural increase of patients, Paul says the hospital is closely monitoring any new positive confirmed cases of coronavirus throughout the region.

“We’re doing it with metrics on hand that we monitor on a daily basis to give us an early warning system,” Paul said. “They’re really around key elements such as availability of testing and the capacity our hospital has to have to handle any type of surge including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).”

Regarding PPE, West says the hospital has reserved about 30-45 days to ensure they have an adequate supply if needed.

NHRMC is also monitoring early warning signals from community testing sites, looking at increases of the illness regionally and looking at occurrences in long-term care facilities.

“We could not safely reopen without a plan in place that allows us to pause or reverse our plans, and our framework provides an early warning if we need to make any modifications for an imminent surge of patients,” said Paul. “We continue to closely monitor the situation and remain prepared to respond to a sudden outbreak in our region.”