The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 41% of American adults have delayed or avoided medical care because of concerns about COVID-19. Dr. Kathleen Baker, who has seen this trend first-hand in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital of Folsom, joined sister station KCRA-TV on Friday to explain why delaying care is a big risk itself.
Q: What would you say is the most common emergency that you’ve seen in the ER since the pandemic? An emergency that probably could have been prevented had people been showing up for regular visits?
Dr. Baker: We are still seeing the everyday emergencies that we had been pre-pandemic. My concern, and as a health care provider and a physician, is that patients have been delaying seeking care. I would like to be a voice of reassurance to our community, our region, our patients, to not delay care and to seek care where you need it.
Q: We know people were avoiding it very much so in the beginning. Are they still avoiding it as much now? What is the impact of that?
Dr. Baker: Yes, we think that they are still delaying care. Data shows that we are having increased out-of-hospital deaths. More patients that come in in cardiac arrest rather than coming in earlier in the disease process when they’re having chest pain, for example. I had a case of a patient who fortunately still had a good outcome, but definitely had a delay in care for his cardiac chest pain. As we say in medicine, time can be muscle. We don’t want to delay care and affect that heart muscle.
Q: How would you say increased alcoholism, increased addiction, increased anxiety and depression during the pandemic are playing into these ER visits? I’m assuming there is a connection there.
Dr. Baker: Definitely. We have seen a rise. It’s a difficult balance. We’re asking patients and communities to stay home, socially distance, isolate. I would encourage people to be able to get outside to do things that decrease their stress in a more healthy manner. We do have care for those patients with substance-use disorders, and we welcome them to come to our emergency departments or their local clinics. If they need help, that is definitely something that we can help them with, too.
Q: Who should be seeking care? Talk about the steps that you guys are taking to keep people safe. Isn’t this the safest place to be?
Dr. Baker: You know, the hospitals and physicians have been experts at sterilization and cleaning techniques for hundreds of years, since the mid-19th century. We were the originals. I would definitely encourage our community, our region, that hospitals your primary care physician's office or your local clinic is safe, that we are doing great precautions. And we have been. This has been routine now for over a year, not only keeping patients safe, as well as staff safe, and we have good procedures and protocols in place to be able to keep really everyone safe and to be able to seek care.