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Doctor warns patients with serious illnesses are avoiding going to the hospital due to fear of COVID

Dr Joseph Alpert (pictured), a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, wrote that, last year, one-third of non-COVID patients were being consulted about hospice care compared to the usual one patient

A doctor is warning that Americans with serious illnesses are dying due to fear of contracting COVID-19.

Dr Joseph Alpert, a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, says that during the course of the pandemic there are still millions of hospitalized patients suffering from conditions such as heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

However, by the time they get to the hospital, they are usually very sick because they have delayed seeking the life-saving medical care they need.

In an op-ed in the American Journal of Medicine, Alpert, who is the Editor-in-Chief, writes that ‘a massive education effort’ is needed to assuage the fears of patients with potentially deadly conditions and to convince them that hospitals are safe. 

During the coronavirus wave in Arizona last year, Alpert was not working with COVID-19 patients, instead attending in the Internal Medicine and Cardiac Care units.

He estimated that during that time, about 40 percent of hospitalized patients were ill with the virus while the other 60 percent had common conditions including heart failure, lung failure, liver failure, pneumonia and so on.

‘However, the current Internal Medicine inpatient population was distinctly different from what I had seen during past decades,’ Alpert wrote.

‘The recent patient population was considerably sicker and much closer to dying than in the past. ‘

He determined that people were not going to the hospital because they feared acquiring COVID-19 on top of their chronic illness. Pictured: Nurse Kyah Paschall checks on 64-year-old-coronavirus patient Patricia Luera connected to a ventilator at Paradise Valley Hospital, National City.

He determined that people were not going to the hospital because they feared acquiring COVID-19 on top of their chronic illness. Pictured: Nurse Kyah Paschall checks on 64-year-old-coronavirus patient Patricia Luera connected to a ventilator at Paradise Valley Hospital, National City.

He wrote that, at times, as many as one-third of the Internal Medicine patients were being considered for hospice care, either at the hospital or at home.

Usually, there was no more than one patient at a time being consulted about end-of-life care.

Alpert said he soon realized it was because patients were avoiding hospitals for fear of acquiring COVID-19 on top of their chronic illness. 

Last year, a CDC report found that emergency room visits per week fell by 42 percent between late March and late April 2020 compared to the year before.

This included a decline in the number of visits for conditions including nonspecific chest pain and heart attacks.

Patients also believed that hospital staff would be so busy dealing with COVID-19 patients that they would have no time to treat them.

‘I repeatedly told patients that they were safer with us on both our inpatient and outpatient services than they would be shopping for groceries, where they would not know the COVID status of those standing near them,’ he wrote.

‘I listed all the things that the hospital and outpatient clinics were doing to avoid transmitting the COVID virus…Unfortunately, much of this information fell on deaf ears. It seems that fear had overcome rational thinking.’

Another CDC report from May 2020  found that the number of people who died in New York City during the height of the coronavirus pandemic was more than triple what would be expected in a normal year.

Between March 11 and May 2, there were more than 24,000 ‘excess deaths’ compared to about 8,000 deaths that typically occur during that two-month window in a normal year.  

According to the CDC, the high number of excess deaths was likely due to people not seeking medical attention due to social distancing measures and the increasing demand place on hospitals.  

Alpert says the medical community needs to establish programs for Americans who are afraid to seek care, such as the American Heart of Association putting up billboards to warn about the how the risk of dying from an ill-managed heart attack is greater the risk of catching COVID-19 at a doctor’s office. 

‘If you are sick, do not delay and do not hesitate to call 911 or get someone to bring you to the closest emergency department where you can receive potentially life-saving therapy,’ he concludes.  


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