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Hospitals see drastic decrease in non-COVID patients at emergency rooms

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — While hospitals have been inundated with COVID-19 patients over the last month, some have seen a drastic decrease in emergency room visits for other ailments, begging the question, what happened to all other patients?

In Indianapolis, before the pandemic, it wouldn’t be unusual for an emergency room to be full of patients both with and without serious ailments. Since the “stay at home” order, hospitals across the country have seen a major change in who is coming through their doors.

“In many parts of the country, including here locally, we have seen emergency department visits drop by as much as 50 percent,” said ,Dr. Christopher Doehring Franciscan Health vice president of medical affairs.

Part of the decrease is patients who would have otherwise gone to the emergency room for non-emergent needs but are now following up virtually with a primary care provider or just staying home. But there is another population of patients missing: those who aren’t coming to the hospital but probably should be.

“Unfortunately I think what we are also experiencing is people delaying coming to the emergency department in true emergencies and in many cases having a poor or potentially tragic outcome,” said Doehring.

As the traditional patient numbers drop, hospitals are seeing an increase in people dying at home from serious issues that would normally send someone to the ER.

“Chest pain or severe headache, vision changes, some sort of weakness on one side or the other — any of those types of symptoms do warrant coming in to be seen,” said Doehring.

There is something to be said for the change in lifestyle that the “stay at home” order has forced people into that could also be affecting the number of hospital visits.

“Different levels of stress. Different levels of exertion potentially,” said Doehring. He continued, “Because there aren’t as many people out in their vehicles and there aren’t as much of the types of things that would lead to those severe traumas.”

So are people avoiding the hospital because of fear or misunderstanding of what the “stay at home” order means?

“Listen to your body. Don’t ignore some of those types of symptoms,” said Doehring.

In hospitals locally, 40-60% of patients that are in the ICU are not COVID-19 related.

If you are experiencing a true medical emergency, you are encouraged to either call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.