We appreciate our community’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus by staying home and practicing social distancing. But we know that heart attacks and strokes don’t stop during a pandemic. As a result, “worried sick” is taking on a whole new meaning.
Fearful patients who are intent on avoiding treatment because of COVID-19 concerns are fueling a new epidemic. A recent New York Times article cited an informal poll by Angioplasty.org, an online community of cardiologists, in which nearly half of the respondents reported a 40%-60% reduction in heart attack admissions to their hospitals — and one in five cardiologists said it was greater than 60%.
Locally, you may have seen reports about a recent MedStar analysis that found that 911 calls in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex have dropped 19% since January and ambulance transports are down 30%. And when ambulances did arrive, patients who delayed care were often far sicker.
Patients may be hesitant about going to hospitals that are caring for COVID-19 patients, or they may think they are helping healthcare workers by preserving capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE). But clearly, they need assurance that hospitals and physician offices are still safe places to access care. While we do encourage telehealth for chronic conditions when possible, new or worsening symptoms must not be ignored.
At Southwestern Health, our population healthcare management model is rooted in providing the right care at the right time. And while nothing feels “right” about our current state, we are committed to providing quality, timely care to patients with conditions that exist outside of the coronavirus pandemic through our care management services.
Our network of physicians and facilities are equipped and available to treat urgent needs, such as heart attacks and strokes, and other chronic conditions — that has not changed. At the least, we need to continue to encourage our patients to call their physicians at the first sign of a health issue and get professional advice.
Southwestern Health has sent notices and educational materials to more than 150,000 at-risk patients to advise them of their vulnerability and reassure them that we have the capacity and the necessary safeguards in place to meet their healthcare needs. These materials reinforce with patients that prompt care is critical to recovery. They also include reminders of the symptoms of heart attack and stroke.
While new daily cases continue to rise in our area and the pandemic far from over, we still need to continue to be vigilant in helping our patients access care. We must continue to stress that our network of healthcare providers has capacity to treat patients with the proper precautions to protect them from infection.
Let’s all do our part to ensure that our patients are getting the right care at the right time, especially in these uncertain times.
Jason Fish, M.D., serves as chief quality officer and interim chief medical officer at Southwestern Health Resources.