Delaying care for non-COVID emergencies can be deadly
During the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency rooms have seen a concerning decrease in patients seeking help for serious non-COVID issues, such as heart attack, stroke, and abdominal pain. The emergency room physicians at Hunt Regional Healthcare say that not only should patients not fear emergency rooms, delaying treatment for medical emergencies can have long-lasting effects or even be fatal.
One byproduct of social distancing has been a reduction in visitors to local emergency departments. Because people are traveling less and are involved in fewer outdoor activities, local facilities have seen fewer accidents and emergencies. However, physicians are concerned patients are choosing to stay at home even when they need emergency care, out of fear of contracting the virus.
Dr. Ryan Randles, trauma medical director for Hunt Regional Medical Center, says that the risk posed by the virus does not outweigh the potential risk of delayed medical treatment.
“Emergency care received in a timely manner could save a patient's life in a medical emergency, and it is important to ensure patients receive appropriate treatment early in the course of illness. Every minute that you delay, the likelihood of having a worse outcome increases,” said Randles.
Precautions are being taken throughout all Hunt Regional Healthcare emergency facilities to isolate patients with COVID-19 symptoms and prevent exposing other patients in the emergency room to possible infection.
“If patients decide to seek emergency care, they will be screened for COVID-19 before being allowed into the ER to better identify and isolate those with the virus. Patients are also separated to a different area of the ER if they are suspected of COVID-19 and placed in isolation rooms within the hospital if they are confirmed to have the illness,” said Randles.
Throughout the hospital, staff members wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and their patients. Strict guidelines for protecting patients are followed, as advised by the CDC. These include masks, gloves, gowns, isolation rooms, and sterilization procedures.
Randles says patients need to know that the emergency room and its doctors are still available 24/7 to address their medical needs.
“Our ER continues to deliver the highest level of care for all medical conditions. Not only will Hunt Regional providers do everything they can to treat your illness or injury, they will do everything they can to protect you and the community from COVID-19,” said Randles.
Dr. R. Lynn Rea, emergency medicine co-chair for Hunt Regional Medical Center, says many people infected with COVID-19 have no symptoms. As a result, emergency room physicians act as though everyone is potentially infectious.
“We're treating everybody like they might be infectious. Even if you stub your toe, we're asking you to wear a mask, and we wear masks for every patient,” said Rea.
Ignoring a true emergency can result in serious—often preventable—complications, or even death. Rea says he is concerned about patients postponing emergency care due to fear and notes that he has already seen cases that required additional measures as a result of delaying treatment.
“I've seen a patient that delayed coming in when she had abdominal pain, and she had well-advanced appendicitis and was at risk for perforation. We've also seen a case of diverticulitis that didn't come to the hospital that did perforate and required a surgery that might've been prevented by earlier antibiotics,” he said.
There are several medical conditions that are considered emergencies because they can require rapid or advanced treatments—such as surgery—that are only available in a hospital setting.
It is important for patients experiencing signs of an emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke, to call 911 or seek emergency care at the nearest emergency room immediately. Under no circumstance should you avoid going to an emergency room or calling 911 if you feel that your symptoms are truly serious.
Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Choking or shortness of breath
- Severe abdominal pain
- Weakness/numbness on one side
- Slurred speech
- Fainting/change in mental state
- Head or eye injury
- Broken bones and dislocated joints
- Fever with a rash
- Deep wounds that may require sutures
- Facial lacerations
- Severe cold or flu symptoms
- Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
- High fever
- Any life-threatening illness or injury
For the latest information about COVID-19, including symptoms, visit www.huntregional.org/COVID.