Trips to the emergency room are declining and leaving some doctors concerned

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The number of emergency room visits is down considerably compared to the months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, leaving doctors concerned. People who urgently need care, they say, are avoiding treatment for fear of catching the coronavirus. 

The United States declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020 in response to COVID-19 which was ruled a pandemic by the World Health Organization just two days prior. State lock downs, quarantines and stay-at-home orders were implemented across the country to reduce transmission as hospitals became inundated with patients infected with the disease. 

During this time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), monitored trends in emergency room (ER) visits unrelated to COVID-19 between March 15 and May 23. 

According to the CDC report, visits to the ER declined by 42% during the outbreak. Researchers also teased out the number of ER visits related to three life-threatening conditions to uncover trends pre and post-pandemic. 

In the 10 weeks following the announcement of COVID-19 as a national emergency, visits to the ER declined 23% for heart attacks, 20% for strokes and 10% for type 2 diabetes-related crises. 

Authors partially attribute the avoidance to seek care because of patients’ fear of contracting the coronavirus. 

However, hospitals, doctors’ offices and health care facilities are actually some of the safest places to be these days, according to Dr. Kevin Gebke, family and sports medicine physician at IU Health. 

“A great deal of planning and effort has gone into protocols for cleaning and the assurance of social distancing,” Gebke told News 8 in a previous interview. “By practicing safe social distancing and wearing a mask in health care facilities, the likelihood of being infected (with the coronavirus) is greatly reduced.”

Upwards of 800,000 people per year experience a heart attack in the U.S. alone while strokes kill approximately 140,000 annually. Thirty-four million Americans suffer from diabetes with an estimated 90 to 95% of these cases being type 2. 

“Persons experiencing chest pain, loss of motor function, altered mental status or other life-threatening issues should seek immediate emergency care, regardless of the pandemic,” authors of the paper urge.

“Communication from public health and health care professionals should reinforce the importance of timely care for acute health conditions and assure the public the emergency departments are implementing prevention and control guidelines to ensure the safety of patients and healthcare personnel,” they conclude.