No one enjoys going to the emergency room, but it can be especially stressful during the pandemic. However, that should not deter you from seeking care if you are experiencing a medical emergency. Delaying care has been a rising, unfortunate trend among hospitals across the country.
For example, New York State saw more than a 20 percent decrease in the number of visits to emergency departments for both strokes and heart attacks in the early months of COVID-19.
“If folks remember, early on in March or even February when we were hearing those terrible stories from Italy and other places in Europe, and then of course in New York and New Jersey, we were very frightened and preparing for the worst. During that time, what was interesting for us and for a lot of emergency departments around the country is that people were afraid to come into the ER,” states Dr. Pete Mikkelsen, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Pullman Regional Hospital.
Dangers of Delaying Care
Dr. Mikkelsen cautions against delaying care for a number of reasons. Certainly, major events like heart attack or stroke need to be addressed immediately. If individuals experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or numbness, they should call 911. For seemingly less severe issues, the long-term effects could still be significant. Someone may have had a small heart attack and not realize it. Or, an appendix might rupture if a person tries to “wait out” the pain.
“Those are the things that really impact people's lives. We want to encourage folks to get care because they really do need it,” he notes. “If they have something that's a serious problem, we may be able to impact their lives by diagnosing and treating and intervening early on in the course of that problem.”
He also encourages people to stay in contact with their primary care providers and specialists, even if it’s just by phone or a virtual telehealth visit. “Disease processes don't stop because we have a pandemic. Screening, health maintenance… those are things doctors have been talking about since this pandemic began.”
Patient Safety Is a Top Priority
Pullman has taken a variety of measures to ensure patient safety in the emergency department, as well as every department within the hospital. All staff members wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Patients are pre-screened for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
Initially, patients with more minor complaints could stay in their cars until they could be seen by an ER doctor. And, the emergency department has all but eliminated the waiting room, to reduce the potential for COVID-19 transmission.
“The risk of coming to the emergency department and contracting COVID really isn't there. We've been very fortunate at Pullman Regional Hospital to not have any cases of COVID-19 transmitted from either a patient to another patient or a staff member to a patient,” assures Dr. Mikkelsen. “I really want to stress that if you need to be seen in the ED, if you have symptoms that could indicate something serious, we really want to see you.”