Over the past months, hospitals and health systems across the world have become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The pandemic became a top priority for care providers and health systems, leaving the continuity of care for patients to become disrupted and deprioritized, almost instantly.
With the focus on the pandemic at-hand, elective surgeries and other nonemergency services have halted. Medical centers and physician offices have opted for virtual care over in-person visits. To support those efforts, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) enacted waivers to allow for increased utilization of telehealth to avoid disruptions in care, especially for those patients with chronic conditions who are at increased risk during this pandemic.
Additionally, necessary supplies and equipment, which were once accessible, abundant, and used to treat an array of illnesses and protect health care workers, have become scarce and allocated as COVID-19 only resources.
Currently, as the country begins to open back up, COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise in certain areas. Because of COVID-19, about half of the public have postponed or avoided their own medical care, according to Kaiser Health News. Whether it is due to fear or other reasons, the decline in visits are alarming. According to another Kaiser article, emergency room volume is down by as much as 40-50 percent for some hospitals, stroke centers have record decreases from 50 to 70 percent and lower rates of heart attack and stroke have been reported. According to a recent CDC report, 90 percent of U.S. adults hospitalized for COVID-19 in March 2020 had at least one underlying condition.
Although this is not entirely surprising, given the severity of COVID-19 – from life-threatening symptoms to its rampant spread – avoiding necessary care could exacerbate symptoms or lead to higher incidences of death. In fact, many physicians believe that people are suffering from strokes, heart attacks, bowel obstructions and other serious conditions at home, when they should be treated immediately and at a hospital.
During COVID-19, those with underlying conditions or compromised immune systems may be at even greater risk of severe illness and even death. According to the American Heart Association (AMA), approximately every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. will have a heart attack and someone else will have a stroke. This statistic was based on more normal circumstances and prior to COVID-19. Although there is still a lot to be learned about the impact of COVID-19, according to the same CDC report aforementioned, approximately 50 percent of those who had been hospitalized for COVID-19, and found to have at least one underlying condition, had hypertension, compared with about 35 percent who had chronic lung disease.
Yet despite time to treatment being a critical component, some related copays and other costs being waived, and hospitals taking extra precautions to ensure the health and safety of patients (sanitation, stringent protocols, etc.), many people continue to stay away from emergency rooms and avoid calling 9-1-1, even when they know the risks. And, they are not seeking the help they need – not only when it comes to their physical health, but mental health as well – all of which can impact one’s overall health.
Below are some helpful tips:
- Do not delay your medical care, especially if you have signs of a life-threatening condition. Call 9-1-1, press your PERS button, go to the hospital – whatever means is necessary.
- If you get COVID-19 and have an underlying heart condition, seek help immediately and/or regularly check in with your physician. Do not ignore warning symptoms that require urgent attention (i.e. heart attack symptoms to look for, according to the American Heart Association).
- Always defend yourself against the virus by practicing sanitary guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (wash your hands, wear protective equipment such as a mask, dispose of tissues after use, sanitize surfaces, practice social distancing, etc.).
- Exercise and eat well to keep your mind and body healthy.
- If you are having financial or other hardships, speak to someone.
- Find an activity you can enjoy (take a walk, exercise, sleep, meditate, read a book, etc.).
- Know your resources – hotlines, CDC website, how to stay heart healthy, what PPE to use, etc.
Know you are not alone. This is a difficult time for everyone, and we are all being impacted in one way or another.