COVID-19 isn’t the only widespread health issue our nation is facing. People are now avoiding going to the ER for serious medical conditions, perhaps due to fear of the virus or the perception that hospitals are plenty full already. We asked Ron Jensen, DO, emergency medicine physician at St. Luke’s Health, to provide some insight.
Have you witnessed a decrease in emergency room visits?
Dr. Jensen: We’ve seen a decrease in all types of emergency room visits since March. It’s particularly concerning because we know that patients are continuing to suffer from serious infections, like appendicitis, or other disease processes, like strokes and heart attacks.
Unfortunately, EMS agencies are getting more calls for patients who are dying. We believe that people are so concerned about catching COVID-19 in the hospital that they’re waiting until it’s too late before seeking medical attention.
How likely is it that a patient will contract COVID-19 during an ER visit?
Dr. Jensen: Great question! We’ve worked very hard to keep our patients as safe as possible. The risk of catching COVID-19 while in the ER is extremely small.
Can you tell that patients are waiting longer to seek emergency medical care?
Dr. Jensen: Yes, absolutely. The patients that have been coming in are much more sick now than they were previously, mainly because they’ve delayed care.
Why is it important to seek timely care during an emergency?
Dr. Jensen: It’s important to treat serious infections or medical conditions promptly because, left on their own, they can rapidly worsen and become life-threatening.
It’s hard for most people to know when to seek emergency care, but symptoms like chest pain, trouble breathing, confusion, severe abdominal pain, or worsening infections should be promptly addressed by a healthcare professional.
What safety measures are in place at our ERs to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Dr. Jensen: We’ve put a multitude of safety measures in place that include screening patients on entry and segregating them based on their likelihood of infection, placing surgical masks on every patient and visitor, limiting visitation, and thorough room disinfection between patients.
Our staff is now provided hospital-issued clothing and will be wearing masks and gloves with every patient interaction. We’ve also reinforced our efforts on hand hygiene and proper PPE.
What precautions should patients take during non-COVID-19 emergencies?
Dr. Jensen: It’s always best practice to wash your hands, cover your cough, avoid close contact, and wear a mask when around others, even if you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms.
If you experience a life-threatening emergency, call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately. Locate your nearest St. Luke’s Health emergency room so you know where to go.